About 70 people turned out for a public meeting in North Charleston on Wednesday to debate the constitutionality of a proposed state law that would essentially nullify Obamacare in South Carolina.
Most speakers at the meeting said they supported the federal Affordable Care Act. Others, including Republican John Gentry, said he doesn’t, but that the proposed state law wouldn’t stand a chance in federal court.
“If we are the ultimate arbiter of what’s constitutional or not, if any state gets to decide which laws they’re going to follow and which ones they aren’t, anarchy will result,” Gentry said.
House Bill 3101, or the “Freedom of Health Care Protection Act,” would nullify the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina, making it unenforceable in this state.
It would also prohibit South Carolina from establishing a health insurance exchange and would set up a tax deduction for residents fined by the federal government for not purchasing health insurance — a new requirement starting in 2014.
Individuals who can’t prove they are insured next year will face a $95 fine when they file income taxes in 2015. The penalty jumps to $325 the following year and $695 the year after that.
The state House of Representatives already passed the bill in May. The state Senate is scheduled to debate it when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. Gov. Nikki Haley has not indicated if she will sign the legislation if passed by both chambers of the Legislature.
Two other public meetings on the bill were held in Columbia and Greenville this week. All were convened by a panel of state senators taking a closer look at the legislation.
At times, the meeting in North Charleston was heated.
One speaker, who spoke against the nullification bill, donned a Confederate soldier’s cap to drive his point home that South Carolina has come a long way since the Civil War. Several other speakers elicited cheers and jeers from the podium.
“I’m tired of South Carolina being the butt of jokes,” said Democrat Tyler Jones.
“Most of you guys are lawyers. You know this is unconstitutional,” he told the lawmakers. “What are we doing here?”
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who chairs the committee, said the group will consider the public’s comments and also seek advice from constitutional scholars on the bill’s legality.
“This is the first step of a process,” Davis said.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.