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House demands suit opposing health reform

Officials disregard high court ruling

Dismissing a ruling by the state Supreme Court, the House is again demanding the state join a lawsuit opposing federal health care reform. The bill passed 211-83, not far off from last year's vote of 267-103.

Attorney General Michael Delaney refused last year's order, and when lawmakers appealed, the justices ruled unanimously that they had acted unconstitutionally in ordering Delaney to do so.

Yesterday, Rep. Dan Itse, a Fremont Republican, downplayed the court's authority, saying its opinion is not precedent-setting. "It's more equivalent to going to your lawyer and asking his advice," he said.

A majority of House members agreed.

Rep. Gary Richardson, a Democrat from Hopkinton, led the opposition on the House floor yesterday. "(This bill) is virtually word for word identical to (last year's bill.) And there is no reason to think the Supreme Court would issue a different opinion."

Delaney confirmed late yesterday that he hasn't changed his position and will again refuse to enjoin New Hampshire in the lawsuit. The suit, brought by Florida, is backed by 26 states.

After the vote, Richardson said in an emailed statement, "What part of 'No' do Republicans not understand?" Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat, added, "This is another example of the Republicans' colossal waste of taxpayers' money."

After last year's vote, Delaney argued that the bill violated the state Constitution's separation of powers doctrine by infringing on the executive branch. The Senate gave the bill to the court and asked whether it was constitutional.

Six former attorneys general and 26 former assistant attorneys general - spanning different political parties and the tenures of nine governors - filed a memo with the state Supreme Court backing Delaney's view that the bill was unconstitutional.

The Republican leadership criticized the June decision immediately. "The New Hampshire Supreme Court's opinion that (the bill) is unconstitutional represents an egregious example of judicial activism and an abandonment of originalism in judicial interpretation," said House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt of Salem.

The House followed that in October with a resolution repudiating the court's finding. Richardson said yesterday that was the proper way to express the House's opinion. Passing the same bill again isn't, he said.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or at atimmins@cmonitor.com.)

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