RICHMOND — A Virginia lawmaker is pushing legislation to add the state to an interstate compact that would exempt members from President Obama’s health care overhaul — a budding movement that’s providing states across the country with another constitutional weapon to combat the landmark law.
Delegate Christopher K. Peace, Hanover Republican, introduced a bill under which Virginia would join other states collectively seeking to create their own health care policies through federal block grants and shield themselves from any conflicting federal law or regulation.
“In its essence, it’s transferring the decision-making power and federal funds to the states,” Mr. Peace said. “Would this include everything that, say, federal health care reform has in it? Likely not.”
Four other states — Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri — already have approved measures that put the compact into law, and legislation is pending in at least 12 others, including Virginia. For a compact to take effect, it needs at least two member states and congressional approval.
Some state legislatures have proposed entering the compact, only to be thwarted by their governors.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, vetoed such a measure last year, as did Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican. Ms. Brewer cited separation-of-powers issues, and said she was concerned it would add additional costs to the state’s health care system.
A spokesman for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican and frequent critic of the health care overhaul, said the governor has not yet seen the legislation but that his office would thoroughly review any such bill passed by the General Assembly and make a decision at that time.
The effort is being coordinated by the Health Care Compact Alliance and grew out of studies at the conservative Texas Public Policy Institute. One organizer has said he would like to see at least 15 states join the compact before asking Congress to approve it.
Enabled by the “Compact Clause” in Article 1 of the Constitution, interstate compacts generally are used to solve cross-border problems such as transportation. About 200 compacts are currently in effect. In the Washington area, the Metrorail system is one example. But the health care compact would be the first to explicitly protect states from federal law.
Nick Dranias, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, said it had a good chance at gaining momentum.
“To get four states on an idea like this is a pretty significant achievement,” he said. “If they plod along with the same success, they’ll have it down in three to four years.”
He said individual bills might meet more resistance than a compact, which has more of a “one jumps, we all jump” mentality.
“A universal bill that was not a compact might run into more political flak than this, [which] might move through a little faster and smoother,” he said. “There might be a lobbying advantage to use a compact.”
If nothing else, the movement provides another state-level outlet for conservative protest against the federal health care law, which has been at fever pitch even before its passage in March 2010. The law is scheduled to be considered by the Supreme Court in March.
Between January and November of last year, 45 states had more than 200 measures filed opposing elements of health care reform or approving alternative policies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.