Which state lawmakers know their national history, and which are doomed to repeat it?
That's the question one local lawmaker posed last week, as the state's debate over the federal government's plans for health care reform echoed a textbook episode from the nation's past.
Two Republican lawmakers moved Monday to reject the federal plan for government-subsidized health insurance premiums and to block insurance companies from refusing care for pre-existing conditions.
State Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, Hunterdon, and Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, R-Sussex, Morris, Hunterdon, said Monday that they are aiming for the state to not recognize President Barack Obama's plan.
McHose and Doherty support amending the state's constitution to prevent allowing federal health care mandates to apply in New Jersey.
"This amendment, if ratified by the voters of this state, will nullify any law that mandates health coverage within New Jersey's borders," Doherty wrote in a statement.
But state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, had something to say about the word "nullify."
"While we are all entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own history," Whelan said, after a heated Senate Commerce Committee hearing on whether Gov. Chris Christie should oppose Obama's plan.
McHose pointed to the long-ago efforts of states to reject federal laws: In the 1830s, South Carolina attempted to disregard two federal tariffs, while Virginia and Kentucky tried in the late 1790s to reject expansion of federal powers in the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Today, McHose said, the process would mean that a nullified law is "not a law as far as the state is concerned."
But Whelan disagreed. "I'm shocked," he said. "The state doesn't get to pick and choose which federal laws they'll follow." While states can challenge federal laws through the courts, he said, history textbooks showed South Carolina's efforts to reject the tariffs failed.
"Didn't we already decide in the 1830s that nullification didn't work?" he said Friday. "You learn about this in sophomore year of high school."
Doherty and McHose later pointed out that Whelan sponsored the state's medical marijuana law, which was passed Jan. 12 despite federal laws against use of marijuana.
Whelan defended his stance on that law Friday. "The federal government has made it clear it is not enforcing the law against medical marijuana users or suppliers," he said.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, pointed out that Christie included projected health benefits to state residents in his proposed 2011 budget.
Trenton mayor gets help
from Atlantic County
Atlantic County may find itself more prominently than usual on Trenton's radar, as three Atlantic County figures are on the transition team for the capital's Mayor-elect Tony Mack, who ended Doug Palmer's five-term, 20-year run last week.
All three men have frequently served on administrations or transition teams for other officials.
Joe Jacobs, former vice chairman of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, serves as the team's vice chairman. He previously served on the transition team for Christie.
Lloyd Levenson, whose firm, Cooper Levenson, has offices in Trenton and Atlantic City, said Friday that he plans to review the administration's use of internal and external legal staffing. Levenson previously served on transition teams for two former governors, Jon S. Corzine and Jim McGreevey, and more recently for Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford.
Andrew Weber, a contracted city attorney with Langford's administration, previously served as chief counsel to former Gov. Jim Florio.
Gaming summit ahead
Meanwhile, Levenson and other attorneys with gaming clients have an additional reason to monitor gaming-policy discussions: Five Democratic lawmakers on Thursday called for what they call a gaming summit, at which anyone connected to the state's gaming industry would convene to discuss how the state could change its constitution to allow for Internet gambling and sports betting.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, who chairs the Senate Committee for Economic Growth, said Friday that he and other key legislators would meet Monday to set out a date.
Whelan, who supports the plan, suggested Friday that the summit could wait until the report by a committee of the governor's advisers, who are expected to deliver recommendations June 30 on how to boost the gaming industry.
Both senators indicated a date for the summit may be set Monday.
People and Power by Juliet Fletcher, The Press of Atlantic City's Statehouse Bureau reporter, appears every Sunday. Fletcher can be reached at: