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House Committee Debates Bringing Obamacare Mandates to Washington

Should controversial mandates from Obamacare—which many believe are on the way out in Washington, D.C.—be made a permanent part of Washington State law?

That is the question the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee considered this morning.  The committee heard public testimony on HB 1523, which would require all health insurance plans to cover all preventative services required under federal law as of December 31, 2016.  It also bans plans that would share the cost of any of those services with employees.

Even before public testimony was heard, members of the committee expressed concern about the details of the bill.  The one-page bill is remarkably short.  However, it incorporates hundreds of pages of federal law and an untold volume of “guidance” into Washington State law.  No one seemed to have an understanding of exactly what the mandates do and do not cover.

Some of those who came to Olympia today to express concerns about HB 1523. From left to right: Brett Kinney, Electric Mirror; Michael Pauley, Human Life of Washington, Arina Grossu, Family Research Council, Luke Esser, Washington State Catholic Conference

Proponents of the bill argued that mandatory coverage for “preventative care” would make it easier to detect diseases like cancer at a time when it was most treatable.

But concerns about the legislation focused on very different issues.

Arina Grossu, from the Family Research Council, testified that the mandate to cover “preventative services” includes requirements to pay for abortifacients like Plan B and Ella, which destroy human embryos and are therefore objected to as a matter of conscience by many.

Brett Kinney, Director of Business Operations for Everett-based manufacturer Electric Mirror, explained the concerns of businesses owners in being forced to pay for a product that violates the beliefs of business owners:

“We offer a comprehensive affordable medical plan to our nearly 400 employees that does not include abortifacients. Not once have we heard complaints that our medical plan or the prescriptive drug plan was not adequate to serve the needs of our employees which includes over 100 women ages 18 to 70.  This bill is trying to solve a problem that is not a problem and forcing us the employer to add cost which reduces our ability to grow our business and put more people to work.”

The Washington State Catholic Conference also offered testimony stating that they will not comply with legislation that forces them to pay for abortifacients, regardless of what the law says.

In addition to concerns about conscience rights, insurance industry representatives expressed concern that the bill appears to be an attempt to preempt a change in federal law before those changes actually take place.  They expressed a preference for waiting to see what happens in Washington, D.C., before reacting to it.

Obamacare mandates involving abortifacients led businesses like Hobby Lobby to sue the federal government, claiming that such mandates violate their religious beliefs.  In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court held that the mandates were invalid because they violated the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  However, Washington State does not have a state RFRA, which means the protections for conscience rights in Washington State are less robust than those that restrain actions of the federal government.

To advance, this bill needs the support of a majority of the members of the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee.

If that happens, it would need to receive passage from the entire House of Representatives before moving to the Senate for consideration.

Please contact your legislators and share your thoughts about this and any other issue through the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them by clicking here. 

As always, be respectful but be heard.  If you don’t speak for yourself, someone will speak for you.

 

 

She Was for It Before She Was Against It

Yesterday, in the United States Senate, Washington Sen. Patty Murray voted with fifty-five other Senators to roll back religious freedom.

Specifically, she voted for legislation that would force businesses like Hobby Lobby to pay for contraceptives that violate their sincerely held beliefs.

While Hobby Lobby pays for sixteen different forms of birth control in their coverage, Sen. Murray and others are frustrated that businesses have the freedom to make choices they disagree with.

In the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court said that the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because there are ways for the government to make the objectionable forms of birth control available without forcing people to violate their conscience.

If it’s really that important, the government could simply pay for it.

However, instead of proposing legislation to make the objectionable forms of birth control available to Hobby Lobby employees that might want them, Sen. Murray drafted legislation that would make it easier for her to force people to violate their beliefs.

Her website claims that the legislation would “restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act and protect coverage of other health services from employers who want to impose their beliefs on their employees by denying benefits.” (emphasis added). 

Oddly, it appears that saying “no” to someone who asks you for something is imposing your beliefs on them.

However, forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do is not.

Her legislation would is intended to be a “legislative fix” to the Hobby Lobby decision and repeal significant protections in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  Curiously, RFRA was itself a “legislative fix” to the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in City of Boerne v. Flores.

In the time we’ve moved from “Hammer pants” to skinny jeans, Congress has moved from being alarmed when the Supreme Court takes away the people’s freedom to being alarmed when the Court limits the government’s ability to control the people.

Religious freedom wasn’t always seen as a problem on the left.

In 1993, RFRA passed the House of Representatives 425-0 and passed the Senate 97-3.  Vast right-wing, co-conspirator Bill Clinton signed it into law and later called it one of his greatest accomplishments as President.

Sen. Murray voted for it as well.

Her shift on this issue is symbolic of the left’s shift on individual liberty generally. Nothing about RFRA changed in the last twenty years.

What changed is the urgency with which the left feels the need to control people’s lives.

In 1993, the idea that employers can be forced to pay for their employees abortions would have been greeted with a universal raise of the eyebrow.

Now that Sen. Murray believes that forcing people to violate their conscience is not only permissible but desirable, she is being forced to undo the protections for individual liberty she once championed.

When it comes to religious freedom, at least she can say she was for it before she was against it.

If you want to share your thoughts with Senator Murray, you can contact her at (202) 224-2621 or click here to send her a message.

Today We Are All a Little More Free

Today we are all a little more free.

In a historic victory for religious freedom, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cannot be forced to pay for early abortion drugs for employees.

The Obamacare mandate at issue requires, among other things, that twenty different contraceptive methods be covered by employer insurance.  Two families, the Greens and the Hahns, objected to four of the specified contraceptive methods on moral grounds.

So they went to court and argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was passed by Congress in 1993, protects them from being forced to violate their conscience.  In response, the Obama Administration argued that RFRA only protected the rights of individuals and not of for profit companies.

Today, the Supreme Court agreed with the families by concluding that, at least in this case, RFRA protects decisions made by these families in their business life as well as their private life.

In essence, the court said that people do not automatically surrender their religious freedom when they start a business and become job creators.

This decision is particularly significant for Washington businesses like the Everett based Electric Mirror, which filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.

Electric Mirror is owned and operated by the Mischel family who are committed evangelical Christians. One member of their family, Aaron Mischel, was adopted after his birth mother was convinced not to go through with a planned abortion.

They do not provide abortion coverage or pay for contraception that covers abortion in the health insurance plans for their employees.

Electric Mirror President Jim Mischel, the brother of Aaron Mischel, explains, “Our desire to promote life and protect the most innocent among us is not just theoretical for businesses like ours, it is deeply personal.  We consider it a responsibility and a privilege to do everything we can to take care of our employees and their families, but that does not extend to helping them do things we believe are wrong.  The fact that the law gives you the right to do something should not mean that I, as your employer, am obligated to participate in it with you.  We are thankful that the Supreme Court acknowledged that my beliefs and my business are not separate.”

Justice Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, shared this sentiment,  “It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiff are mistaken or unreasonable.”

Abortion industry advocates dislike the decision because they claim it allows employers to get in between the relationship of a doctor and the patient.

In reality, however, employers want to stay out of their employees’ doctor’s office but the mandate attempts to pull them, kicking and screaming, into the consultation room so they can pay the bill.

You may have the right to own a shotgun, but your boss shouldn’t be required to buy one for you.

Employers should be free to offer compensation packages that are acceptable to them and employees should be free to work for whomever they want.  If the parties cannot agree, both should be free to find a better fit.

When government decrees prevail, only those who agree with the decree win.  When individuals retain the right to make decisions for themselves, everyone wins.  Giving the government power over the individual because they’ll use it in a way we like is not a long-term plan to peace and prosperity.  That sword always ends up having two edges.

We can all be thankful for this important decision, but there is still a long way to go.

Tonight, say a prayer for the Greens, the Hahns, and the Mischels whose involvement in these cases have resulted in all of us being a little more free today than we were yesterday.  Then consider what you’re willing to do to protect our religious freedom.  After all, freedom isn’t free and we can’t ask them to do all the work.

Stay tuned, tomorrow we will look at what this means for florists and pharmacists who are also in court trying to protect their religious freedom.

Your contribution of $5 or more makes it possible for us to protect religious freedom here in Washington State.

Why the Left Abandoned Religious Freedom

In 1990, the Supreme Court’s Employment Division v. Smith decision lowered the bar for religious freedom protections.  Three years later, Congress responded by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which restored the higher standard of religious freedom protections that existed prior to the Smith case.

The RFRA required the government to have a “compelling government interest” before doing anything that would restrict religious freedom.

This did not mean you could do anything in the name of religion, but it prevented the government from punishing an individual’s religious expression simply because they didn’t like it.  It would not allow someone to beat their children as a matter of religious expression because the government has a compelling interest in the protection of children. But it would allow Native American’s to use peyote in their religious ceremonies despite the fact that it is generally illegal.  The compelling governmental interest in stopping the ceremonial use of peyote could not be demonstrated.

Significantly, when congress adopted this standard it wasn’t even controversial. Everyone believed in religious liberty

The bill was sponsored by Chuck Schumer, still one of the most prominent leftists in Washington DC. It passed the House of Representatives unanimously and passed the Senate 97-3. President Clinton, who signed it into law, called the bill one of his greatest accomplishments as President.

A later Supreme Court decision said that the federal government could not force the states to abide by the standard in RFRA so 18 states have subsequently adopted their own state version.

However, when the Washington State Senate began a debate over RFRA-like language two weeks ago, it was apparent that it will be controversial.

Questions during the hearing indicated that the proposal will face significant, if not insurmountable opposition, in the legislature.

This begs the question, what exactly has changed since 1993 that makes a formerly uncontroversial proposal suddenly so controversial?  If RFRA was supported by Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, and John Kerry, why can’t they support it today?

In 1993, the left still cared about individual rights.

They could still remember the 1970’s when modern liberalism cut its teeth on the idea that it is better to allow people to be offensive (e.g., burn flags, be profane, create and distribute pornography) than to allow the government be the judge of what kind of speech or behavior was acceptable.

Freedom, they argued, is the right to do and say things other people disagree with.

While a belief in individual rights used to be the hallmark of liberalism, it has since been replaced by a commitment to amorphous concepts like “equality” and ending “discrimination”. While they never define those terms in a way they could be held accountable for, what is obvious is that their pursuit of those values leaves no room for people to disagree.  After all, how can we have a tolerant world if people are allowed to do things that are intolerant?

The new left wants government to officiate all of our interactions to make sure no one “discriminates”.

This explains why, in 1993, Chuck Schumer was the prime sponsor of the RFRA, but in 2013, he is a vocal opponent of efforts that would allow the Catholic Church not to pay for contraception in violation of its beliefs.

It also explains why in 1993, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), co-chaired the lobby committee that helped make RFRA federal law.  However, in 2013, they filed a lawsuit against a florist in Washington State because they did not want to provide floral services for a same-sex “wedding”.  The ACLU now opposes RFRA language in Washington State specifically because it could allow business owners the freedom to make decisions consistent with their religious beliefs.

Going back even further to 1973, abortion advocates argued for an understanding of the right to privacy that would allow a woman to have an abortion.  In 2013 they argue for the right to force other people to pay for their abortions and the right to demand professional services from people who are morally opposed to it.

They used to support people’s right to buy a car. Now they argue for the right to hijack someone else’s car and force the owner to take them where they need to go because they believe the destination is that important.

Of course the loss of individual freedom is only a regrettable and temporary means to an end. Once everyone agrees with them, individual rights won’t be quite as dangerous as they are right now.

Still, the fact that they now value a “tolerant” world free of “discrimination” more than individual rights explains why previously uncontroversial concepts like religious freedom are now viewed so skeptically.  Their value system has changed.

As a result, during the hearing in the Washington State Senate Law and Justice Committee two weeks ago, two State Senators expressed serious concern that such a bill would allow pharmacists not to sell abortion drugs or a florist not to provide floral services for a same-sex “wedding”.

Some legislators now believe it is their job to make sure businesses owners are not free to do things they find intolerant.

In the process, those who support religious freedom protections are being characterized as people simply looking for a license to hate.

The problem with this position is that the same religious freedom protections being asked for today were once supported by less than rabid conservatives like Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Paul Wellstone.

The fact that religious freedom is now a controversial topic is not because prominent, new sects of dangerous, religious extremism have formed. To the contrary, religious freedom is now controversial because the voices in culture that have always said that not every impulse should be indulged are the enemy of their well-intentioned but entirely subjective concept of tolerance.

So in pursuit of a more tolerant world, they ironically seek to arm government with the power to decide which ideas are acceptable and which are not. That puts them in historically uncomfortable company where typically everyone’s ox is gored.

We need not follow that path, but we’d be foolish to deny how close we are to it.

In the process of looking for religious freedom protections, we don’t need to convince everyone to see the world like we do. What we are really doing is asking liberals to be liberals again.

To share your thoughts on religious freedom with your state legislators click here, or call the Legislative Hotline at 1.800.562.6000.