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One-Third of the General Assembly Now Challenging Chafee Order on Health Benefits Exchange
Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
For immediate release:
March 21, 2012
For more information:
Barth E. Bracy, Executive Director
Office: (401) 521-1860 / Mobile: (401) 225-8646
One-Third of the General Assembly Now Challenging
Chafee Order on Health Benefits Exchange
Providence, RI—Ten additional Rhode Island lawmakers have joined a lawsuit initiated by the Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee (RIRTL) last December 1 against Governor Lincoln Chafee. A total of 38 state legislators, fully one-third of the General Assembly, are now challenging the constitutionality of Chafee’s September 19, 2011, executive order, which purports to establish a Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange and board to govern it even though the General Assembly rejected legislation creating the Exchange last year.
The Rhode Island Senate passed a Health Benefits Exchange Act -- a key component of the national health care reform law -- last April 5 on a vote of 31-6. Chafee and other powerful officials opposed the Act for the sole reason that it included language that -- consistent with longstanding state and federal law --prohibits government funds from being used to purchase health insurance plans that provide coverage for elective abortion. Subsequently, the Rhode Island House of Representatives failed to act on the Senate bill and failed even to act on its own version of the bill, which did not contain any abortion-funding prohibition.
Notably, the Senate and House versions of the Act both recognized, in their very first lines, that: “Statutory changes to Rhode Island law are necessary in order to establish an American health benefit exchange in Rhode Island and its administrative authority…” RIRTL and the 38 plaintiff-legislators agree, and retained constitutional lawyer Joseph S. Larisa, Jr., to challenge Chafee’s attempt to create an Exchange by executive order, despite the rejection by the General Assembly of legislation creating the Exchange.
According to Attorney Larisa: “It is a fundamental principle of both American and Rhode Island constitutional law that the legislature enacts the laws, the Governor executes the laws and the courts interpret the laws. The General Assembly considered and refused to adopt a health benefit exchange in June. Until this order, no other Governor has attempted to bypass the legislature and create a health care exchange unilaterally. Yet, the executive order we are challenging purports to comply with the federal health care law by giving the exchange extraordinary power to meet its requirements, including entering into contracts and receiving and spending tens of millions of dollars of government and private money. Its grant of both executive and legislative power absent legislation violates Rhode Island’s separation of powers constitutional mandate. It disenfranchises members of the General Assembly, each of whom has the constitutional right to vote on whether and how any exchange should be created, and the power and limits thereon. The question is not whether Rhode Island can create an exchange -- it most surely can -- the question is whether the Governor or the General Assembly possess the power to create this powerful State entity and determine its governance. The Constitution places that power squarely in the hands of the General Assembly.”
RIRTL Executive Director Barth E. Bracy called on the House to “end the controversy and pass the Senate bill pending in the House.” That bill maintains longstanding federal and state prohibitions against public funding for elective abortion. “One-third of the General Assembly has openly joined our legal challenge, demanding their constitutional right to vote on the creation and powers of the health benefits exchange. Together, we stand against Governor Chafee’s extra-constitutional attempt to force Rhode Islanders to subsidize other people’s abortions under the guise of health care reform.”
About Rhode Island Right to Life: Rhode Island Right to Life was founded in 1970 with the mission to advocate for a state, nation and world in which the innocent lives of the unborn, the disabled, the elderly and the ill are valued by the citizenry and protected by civil law. RI Right to Life lobbies for legislation that advances the cause of the sanctity of human life at both the state and federal levels. RI Right to Life is the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee.
P.O. Box 28285, Providence, RI 02908
(401) 521-1860 • Fax (401) 521-1876 • www.rirtl.org
Nonprofit • Nonpartisan • Nonsectarian
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