Local legislators responding to questions about a proposed law requiring Montana to sue the federal government over health care reform are split on the issue.
Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, said Thursday that he has received twice as many e-mails on the issue than on any other topic.
Of those, 98 percent are in favor of Montana joining the lawsuit, he said.
“It’s amazing, the public outcry on this,” Hutton said.
But Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, has a different take on the issue.
“If we're trying to make budget cuts to the state budget, why are we even entertaining the thought of spending more of the state's taxpayers dollars on a frivolous lawsuit that will probably be overturned anyway? We don't even know what the cost will be at the end of the day … ,” Windy Boy said Thursday. “I have an idea: let’s take the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands (of dollars), we will spend on this state lawsuit and spend it on the Medicaid state match.”
The lawsuit, filed by the Florida attorney general, now has about 20 states in the action to challenge the health care reform.
Bullock has declined joining the lawsuit and opposes the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge.
The Legislature’s lawyer has warned the representatives that forcing the attorney general to join the lawsuit may violate the state Constitution’s separation of powers between the branches of government.
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, said Wednesday evening that she supports ordering Bullock to join the lawsuit, and that she is not concerned about the warning that the bill may be unconstitutional.
Responses from Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, and Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, to requests for comments were not available by deadline this morning.
Windy Boy said the Legislature should not try to run the attorney general’s office.
“We have no business ordering the attorney general to do anything,” Windy Boy said. “His office is a different branch of the government, and, yes, it may be a constitutional violation on the separation of powers.”
But Hutton said that is not certain. Sen. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, a practicing attorney, helped closely research the bill and says it is constitutional he said.
Wittich says it is the duty of Bullock to follow the laws as passed by the Legislature, not to make them, Hutton said.
While this may be the first time the Legislature has ordered the state’s top lawmaker to join a lawsuit, the outcry of the people in his district and across the state,and the research done by the senators, backs it up, Hutton added.
“Listening to the voice of the people and trusting that we’ve got a couple of guys who have done their homework, I will continue to support this,” Hutton said.