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South Carolina lawmakers fail in attempt to undo Obamacare

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October
A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - South Carolina lawmakers failed to derail implementation of President Barack Obama's signature health care law in the state when a measure was defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Last year, the state House passed a bill that nullified the law by calling for criminal penalties for anyone who sought to enforce it. Late Wednesday night, however, Senators voted 33-9 to defeat an amendment regarding the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

The amendment would have banned state agencies and employees from helping to carry out the health care law. It would have required healthcare navigators who help people sign up for health insurance to be licensed by the state.

Republican supporters argued they wanted to prevent the federal government from "commandeering" state resources in order to make the law work.

The effort was being followed closely by Republican lawmakers in other states looking for ways to defeat the health insurance legislation, which was passed in 2010 and survived legal challenges all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In striking down the measure, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, the Senate president and a Republican, cited procedural rules that required the Senate to follow the original House bill's aim without adding new issues.

Democratic Senator Bradley Hutto said efforts to nullify the law would invite a federal lawsuit against the state.

"Nullification is a concept that is legally dead. It's fraught with issues," Hutto said.

"We've been down that road before," Democratic Senator John Matthews Jr. said, referring to South Carolina's nullification of federal laws in the years before the U.S. Civil War, whose first shots were fired in the state.

"It didn't work then and it's not going to work now," he said.

About six states have barred their employees from helping implement Obamacare, according to Richard Cauchi, the healthcare program director for the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. At least eight states, including two that support the healthcare reforms, have regulated navigators, he said.

(Corrects to state House passed a bill, not an amendment, paragraph 2)

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Grant McCool)

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