JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Republicans made their case Friday for a temporary court order blocking the secretary of state’s office from certifying the November ballot because of a dispute over a health care initiative.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and several Republican legislative leaders contend the health care measure summary written by Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is unfair and misleading. Republican officials filed a lawsuit last month and say a restraining order is needed because their court challenge is scheduled for hearing Aug. 28, which is when the secretary of state must certify the November ballot.
Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green heard arguments in the case Friday in Jefferson City. He did not immediately rule on the restraining order request.
At issue is a measure barring Missouri officials from creating a health insurance exchange without approval from voters or the Legislature. It also would prohibit state departments from taking federal money to set up the online marketplace intended to allow consumers to shop for and compare health insurance plans. The federal health care law requires states to create health insurance exchanges by 2014 or the federal government will run one for them.
The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the restrictions earlier this year but then referred the proposal to the ballot. Lawmakers did not write their own summary, so the task was Carnahan’s responsibility.
Her summary states: “Shall Missouri law be amended to deny individuals, families, and small businesses the ability to access affordable health care plans through a state-based health benefit exchange unless authorized by statute, initiative or referendum or through an exchange operated by the federal government as required by the federal health care act?”
Jay Kanzler, an attorney representing the Republican officials, said the restraining order would prevent Carnahan from certifying an “illegal summary statement.” He suggested if the judge does not grant a restraining order, the secretary of state’s office should be required to include a warning to local election officials about the court case when the ballot is certified.
Kanzler said the health insurance measure is designed to give voters a choice about how they want to proceed under the federal health care law and does not deny them anything.
“It is false, insufficient, unfair and does not outline the true intentions of the ballot,” he said.
Deputy Solicitor General Jeremiah Morgan, who represented the secretary of state’s office, defended the summary. He said Carnahan had 50 words to summarize the measure’s purpose and probable effects and that opponents have focused on a portion of the summary.
In addition, he said the restraining order is unnecessary because local election officials will not start printing ballots until at least Sept. 13 because they are waiting for Republicans and Democrats to officially nominate their presidential and vice presidential candidates at national conventions. He also said the requested court order would affect more than just the health care measure.
“They’re asking to have the entire ballot stopped and delayed, not just with respect to their ballot title but the entire ballot. … That kind of relief is intolerable in these circumstances,” he said.
Absentee ballots must be available Sept. 25 and ballots for those serving in the military must be ready by Sept. 22.
A separate lawsuit filed in July claims Carnahan inaccurately and unfairly summarized another ballot measure changing the process for selecting state appellate judges. No hearing had been set in that case.
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