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AG: Gibbons overstepped with plan to sue over health reform

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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, April 6, 2010 | 3:06 p.m.

Gov. Jim Gibbons announced a plan today to have Nevada join a federal lawsuit to block health care reform. Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto fired back this afternoon, saying she could take action to stop the governor.

During a noon news conference, Gibbons signed an executive order to appoint Mark Hutchison, a Las Vegas lawyer, to take the case for free.

Gibbons said Nevada will join the federal lawsuit filed in Florida. He said the plan is to pay for any other fees with private donations.

“This health care nationalization plan is illegal because it is unconstitutional,” Gibbons said. “The arrogance of this administration to force all Nevadans to purchase something (health insurance from private companies) or face IRS penalties is outrageous and wrong.”

The Republican governor has been publicly feuding with Cortez Masto, who refused his directive to sue the federal government over the bill passed by Congress and signed last month by President Obama.

Cortez Masto issued a statement this afternoon saying her office "is now in the regrettable position of having to consider the necessary legal options to take in response to the governor's most recent action."

Her statement continued: "The governor does not have the power to suspend the laws of our state by issuing an executive order. The law is very clear that the Attorney General is the legal advisor on all state matters arising in the Executive Branch of the state. The responsibility to commence litigation on behalf of our state is not the governor's to exercise unilaterally, and it makes no difference whether the legal representation is free or not."

Gibbons argues the law tramples state's rights and amounts to unfunded mandates that will cost the state millions in added Medicaid costs.

Cortez Masto says the Constitution gives Congress broad powers to regulate commerce. She says 14 other states have already sued, and that any outcome would apply to Nevada even if the state doesn't join the suit.

Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, issued the following statement in response to the governor's decision.

“The governor's intent is to repeal a law that gives access to quality, affordable health care to more than 600,000 more Nevadans. He wants to repeal a law that prevents insurance companies from deciding who gets to see a doctor and when. He wants to roll back tax cuts for 24,000 small business owners in Nevada. And he wants to re-open the Medicare Part D 'donut hole' for seniors. Sen. Reid worked tirelessly to ensure these injustices no longer take place. Rather than fighting to protect big insurance companies, Gov. Gibbons should join Sen. Reid in fighting for Nevada consumers.”

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