ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Gov. Sean Parnell announced on Tuesday that the State of Alaska would join a lawsuit brought by at least 19 other states challenging the constitutionality of federal health care reform legislation.
Parnell made the long-expected announcement with state Attorney General Dan Sullivan at a press conference in Juneau.
The White House has said the suit will fail, and that the Justice Department would vigorously fight any challenges. Virginia has filed a separate suit and Oklahoma lawmakers announced Tuesday they would do likewise.
The legal challenges come after a bitterly partisan debate over the bill that raised the ire of many while at the same time was hailed by others as landmark reform.
Parnell says he believes forcing every American to pay for health insurance is unconstitutional. Several weeks ago, that led Parnell to ask Sullivan and the state Department of Law to review the legislation.
The memo recommends the state join the lawsuit initially brought by Florida's attorney general. Parnell waived his attorney-client privilege to allow the findings to be released.
Parnell said the bill challenges the freedom of Americans, and that it is an unprecedented mandate by the federal government.
"With the enactment of healthcare legislation, the federal government has reached well beyond the scope of its authority. It's reached into the lives and freedom of Alaskans," Parnell said.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted against the legislation, said she is pleased to see Alaska join other states in challenging the legislation.
"As a state that recognizes that sometimes there are federal mandates that are imposed on the states that go beyond the Constitutional limits, when the states feel that that point has been reached, it's appropriate to join the litigation," Murkowski said.
Parnell's announcement did not come as a surprise to many Democrats.
"This is a continued effort by the Republicans to say no to a bill that is clearly aimed at helping Alaskans and helping Americans," said Jonathan Teeters, the state director for Organizing in America, a group of Democrats.
Teeters said he was hoping Parnell would work to help make the bill better.
"We knew that it wasn't perfect when we passed it, but we also know that we have to start working on it to make it better, and Gov. Parnell is choosing to dig his heels in and say no," Teeters said.
Sen. Mark Begich, who voted for the bill, issued a written statement while the Juneau press conference was still under way.
"At a time when Alaska's unemployment rate is at record highs and families are struggling to make ends meet, the administration of Governor Sean Parnell has decided to spend countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a lawsuit of dubious merit which is unlikely to be successful," he said. "That level of state dollars and resources could be better spent keeping our economy healthy, creating jobs for Alaskans and protecting public safety."
Sullivan said it would cost the state about $5,000 to join the lawsuit, according to Florida's deputy attorney general, not hundreds of thousands of dollars, as Begich said in his statement.
Parnell defended his decision: "Alaskans should understand this is not really about health care, in fact, whether you support free-market healthcare policies or universal coverage, you should lay that fight down for the moment and join together in what really is a battle for freedom."
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