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AG won’t file health reform suit; Gibbons vows to stop ‘intrusion’

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Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Jim Gibbons disagree on whether Nevada should sue over the federal health care reform law.

Updated Tuesday, March 30, 2010 | 3:22 p.m.

CARSON CITY – Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has rejected the request of Gov. Jim Gibbons to file suit with other states challenging the constitutionality of the health reform bill signed by the president.

In a letter to the governor, she said the “authority given to Congress is extensive and appears strong enough to support the act.”

“In my professional judgment, joining the litigation filed by 14 other states, as you have suggested, is not warranted by existing law at this time,” she wrote.

The governor earlier suggested a second-year law student could carry the suit. Daniel Burns, communications director for Gibbons, said he wasn’t surprised by Masto's decision. The governor said this afternoon he is considering his options to move forward with legal action on behalf of the state.

“I am disappointed the attorney general has refused to fight for the rights of Nevada citizens,” Gibbons said in a statement. “I swore an oath to protect Nevada citizens and that is exactly what I intend to do.”

Gibbons said attorneys have contacted the his office willing to represent Nevada without charge.

“This type of federal intrusion into our lives and our state must be stopped," Gibbons said.

Brian Sandoval, who is challenging Gibbons in the GOP primary for governor, said he was disappointed by Masto's decision not to join the other states in the suit. The law, he said, creates constitutional questions involving states' rights.

“As a former attorney general, I cannot recall a time when the office refused to take an important case at the request of the governor,” said Sandoval, who urged Masto to reconsider her decision.

Nevada health and welfare officials calculate the health insurance bill will cost the state an extra $613 million by the year 2019 to pay for the estimated 78,000 people to be required to join the Medicaid program. Medicaid is a federal-state program to provide health insurance for low-income people.

Masto said there has been discussion that the expansion of the Medicaid program would cost Nevada millions of dollars.

“Like you, I dislike unfunded mandates,” she told the governor. “However, an unfunded mandate by itself is not unconstitutional.”

The attorney general noted the other 14 states are financing the suit to have the health bill declared invalid. Those suits will affect all states and, “Therefore, Nevada can ride for free at this time by allowing other states to foot the bill,” Masto said.

The attorney general said Gibbons has “always left to the sound judgment of my office the legal affairs of this state.” She cited several cases where she said Gibbons trusted the legal analysis by the office of the attorney general.

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