Ala. House vote fails; state won't pull out of health care plan

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Republicans in the Alabama House hit a minor speed bump Thursday in their quest to pass the promises they made to voters last year in a pledge called the "handshake with Alabama."

One of the priorities for Republican leaders in the Legislature was a proposed constitutional amendment for Alabama to withdraw from the new federal health care plan approved by Congress.

Even supporters of the bill acknowledge it's a mostly symbolic gesture and the future of the federal law will ultimately be decided in the courts.

The House voted 59-28 in favor of the bill, but 63 "yes" votes were needed to pass a constitutional amendment.

The vote came late in the day after some lawmakers had already left the chamber. Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard said the bill will come back up for a vote on Tuesday and he expects supporters will have the needed 63 votes.

House sponsor Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, urged lawmakers to allow Alabama to pull out of the program, which he said requires people to participate whether they want to be in it or not.

"For something to be mandated and for them to say you don't have a choice, that violates what our country was founded on," Galliher said.

Another supporter, Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, said the proposed amendment "is an opportunity for the state to make a bold statement. This usurpation by the federal government has got to stop."

But Democrats warned that opting out of the health care plan would hurt Alabama residents who do not have insurance. Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville, argued that Alabama residents without insurance will go to hospital emergency rooms, which are required to provide medical care.

"That's more expensive," Grimsley said.

Other Democrats said the bill was unneeded because the fate of the health care plan is being considered in various courts and will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, said he believes the proposed amendment is unconstitutional.

"You know as well as I do that you can't pass a law that usurps a federal law," Holmes said.

Galliher said four other states have passed laws to opt out of the federal health care plan.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)