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Spotlight: Local artist suing feds over health bill

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | NOVEMBER 04, 2010 7:20 AM

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In a smoky second-floor studio near the Pedestrian Mall, local artist, and former Iraq combat medic, Matt Sissel works diligently painting and drawing portraits of live models.

But that is not all the Iowa City resident does with his time.

Sissel, 29, has gained national attention after filing a lawsuit against the federal government.

More specifically, he's filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Treasury for allegedly violating the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which would force him to buy health insurance in 2014 or face a tax from the government.

"I don't really have a lot of money," he said, clasping his hands together in the loud hallway outside his studio, which neighbors a tattoo parlor and an adult video store.

"So any money people force me to spend on things that don't immediately affect the growth of my business I find very harmful," he said. "Whether it's health insurance or anything else."

Sissel opened his art studio just six months ago in Iowa City after returning from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where he studied at the Academy of Realist Art.

He said moving out of his basement and into a studio has allowed him to complete more work, be more involved in the community, and bring in models for his artwork.

However, Sissel fears the health-care mandate will hinder the growth of his new business, through which he sells his own artwork online.

"The more money that's out of my pocket, the harder it is for me to invest in my business," he said.

Along with art materials, Sissel said paying for health insurance would make it more difficult for him to pay specific people to model in his studio.

Sissel said he filed the lawsuit, represented by the California-based nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation, after stumbling across the firms posting on Facebook, which looked for civilians who felt they would be negatively affected by the health-care bill.

"I volunteered for the military." he said. "I liked doing that, and I feel this is the next sort of chapter in being able to sort of defend my country and defend individual rights."

Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Luke Wake, one of Sissel's representatives, said in lawsuits such as this, the firm typically looks for citizens who can prove the federal provision will have a negative effect on them.

"We wanted to make sure we had someone who had a compelling story to tell, and that would certainly be Matt," Wake said. "Because he served his country honorably … and because he is a small businessman now who just wants to provide for his family and wants to get his business off the ground."

While Sissel and his attorneys are unsure of where the lawsuit will go, if the lawsuit is not dismissed and moves through the appeals process, it could go to the Supreme Court, where they hope justices will strike down the mandate that gives Congress an unprecedented amount of power, Wake said.

One friend, and Sissel's former landlord, Mark McCallum, said that although his issues with the health-care bill are slightly different, he is supportive.

"I respect his decision to do what he's doing," he said. "And he's sincere about it."


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