By Marc Kovac
The final issue on next month’s ballot is the one that has been debated the longest among Ohioans.
The tea party-backed Issue 3 is an attempt to block health-care mandates from taking effect in the state, stemming from a federal reform package passed by Congress last year with support from President Barack Obama.
The Ohio Liberty Council, which represents the tea party and affiliated groups statewide, collected signatures for more than a year before submitting them in time to qualify for this year’s general election.
Supporters of the constitutional amendment say it is necessary to block efforts to force people to buy health insurance and health care.
“It guarantees that Ohio could never be a state like Massachusetts with a large government-forced mandate that you purchase health insurance or participate in the health-care system,” said Jeff Longstreth, campaign manager for Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom.
He added, “It’s about rights. In order to enforce the individual mandate at the federal level, the federal government would have to step on the rights of Ohioans, who have a constitutional right to purchase or not purchase health care.”
But opponents of Issue 3 believe it would hurt other state health programs and lead to years of legal challenges.
“Putting such a carelessly conceived and sloppily worded amendment into our state constitution would be an unmitigated disaster,” Dale Butland, spokesman for Innovation Ohio, a liberal research group, said during a September press conference.
“Issue 3 would also spawn so many legal challenges and lawsuits that it could have reasonably been subtitled the Lawyer’s Full Employment Act of 2011,” Butland added.
Issue 3 would prohibit any law or rule that forces individuals, employers or health-care providers to buy or sell health care or insurance or levies a fine against those that choose not to participate. It would cover the new federal law, plus any others attempted in the future at the national, state or local levels.
A “yes” vote would amend the constitution to block insurance and health-care mandates. A “no” would kill the constitutional amendment.
Backers of the amendment acknowledge that the ultimate decision on the federal health-care mandates likely will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court. But they say Ohio’s Issue 3 is still needed to thwart future health-care laws from taking effect in the state and send a message to the rest of the country.
“People have always said, as Ohio goes, so goes the nation,” said Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County Tea Party and president of the Ohio Liberty Council. “I think what we’re doing here has tremendous ramifications. ... This is vital, this is critical.”
He added, “You can’t as a state repeal Obamacare. It’s not that. ... We think this constitutional amendment does a lot more here in Ohio as far as setting up the rules for what you can and can’t do and what individual rights you retain.”
But opponents of Issue 3 believe the constitutional amendment will lead to future legal challenges and have too many unintended consequences.
And they said the amendment likely would affect workers’ compensation, school immunization, disease tracking and dozens of other state programs, including licensing for doctors and insurance agents.
“It is a very wide, very broad coalition of folks who are concerned about Issue 3 and the fatal flaws that are in this legislation that will lead to decades of litigation and put Ohio in a perilous state when it comes to changing or enforcing laws,” said Brian Rothenberg, executive director of Progress-Ohio, a liberal advocacy group based in Columbus and treasurer of the Vote No On Issue 3 campaign.