- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - An effort to delay implementation of the federal health care overhaul in South Carolina died late Wednesday in the state Senate.

Senators voted 33-9 to defeat a House bill that initially sought to nullify the federal law in South Carolina. The vote came after a different version offered by Sen. Tom Davis to address constitutional concerns died on a technicality. Supporters called it a constitutional way to push back against the federal law.

His proposed amendment, which he dubbed the Anti-Commandeering Act, barred using state resources to help implement the health care law. It also would have regulated navigators who help people sign up for health insurance through the federal website and required state agencies to hold hearings before applying for federal grants tied to the U.S. Affordable Care Act.

“I accepted reluctantly that the Supreme Court ruled it’s the law of the land,” Davis said after the vote. “My amendment sought to push back the act’s implementation in a constitutional light.”

But after two weeks of debate, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell ruled that Davis‘ amendment could not be substituted for the House bill because it included provisions unrelated to what that chamber passed last year. He cited a Senate rule that prevents such “bobtailing,” a practice that has resulted in the state Supreme Court tossing out laws as unconstitutional.

McConnell applauded Davis as doing “a lot of scholarly work.” However, he said, “I rule strictly on the rules.”

In a rare move, Davis asked the Senate to overrule McConnell, a three-decade veteran senator who led the chamber as president pro tem until 2012. But that vote failed 28-14.

“It’s dead. When a bill fails on a reading like that, it’s done,” said Davis, R-Beaufort. “I gave it my best shot. I’ll always look for ways we can legally and constitutionally push back.”

People referred to the House bill as an attempt to nullify federal law, which courts have routinely ruled states cannot do. However, while the bill as introduced in January 2013 sought to do that, much of the original language was stripped before it passed the House. While a preamble declared South Carolina had absolute and sovereign authority to reject the law, the bill itself did very little besides give residents a tax credit if they were fined for not having insurance.

“Despite all the fire and brimstone” at the beginning of the measure talking about nullification, what the House “actually did was something far more pragmatic,” Davis said.

Davis said that like his amendment, which he still believes is germane, supporters of the House legislation “were pushing back in various ways against the Affordable Care Act.”

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he was glad the debate was over, adding that he had heard from a variety of people saying the argument hurt the state’s image.

“We should not be talking about nullification in the 21st century,” he said.

It was Hutto’s move that led to the bill’s demise. After two weeks of the Senate getting nowhere on the issue, Hutto called for closing down debate and requested McConnell’s ruling. With cloture in effect, Davis couldn’t offer any other amendments that might have been ruled in order.