NASHVILLE -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, opened the door Wednesday to hiring an outside lawyer if Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper won't challenge the constitutionality of the new federal health care law in court.

"We're taking it a step at a time," Lt. Gov. Ramsey, the state Senate speaker, said.

He made his comments after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2 on his resolution urging Mr. Cooper to file suit against the new health care law recently signed into law by President Barack Obama.

"If he (Cooper) refuses, then you look at the next step," said Lt. Gov. Ramsey, R-Blountville. "I don't know what that'll be right now. But I think we would have power to hire an outside counsel if we come to that point."

Mr. Cooper, who served as chief legal counsel to Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen before his appointment as state attorney general, had no immediate comment.

In Georgia, Gov. Sonny Perdue has said he wants to retain an independent counsel in light of the refusal by Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, to join other state attorneys general, most of them Republican, who are suing over the law.

"I cannot justify a decision to initiate expensive and time-consuming litigation that I believe has no legal merit," Mr. Baker, who is running for governor, has said.

According to The Associated Press, attorneys general from 16 states now have filed suits against the federal law.

On Tuesday, Mr. Cooper issued a legal opinion questioning the constitutionality of a state bill that seeks to challenge the federal law. The bill says Tennesseans can ignore the federal mandates that they obtain insurance and directs Mr. Cooper to defend them in court if needed.

The attorney general said in his opinion that courts "likely" would rule against the state.

Asked by reporters how he would how he would pay the legal expenses for a special counsel, Lt. Gov. Ramsey said he believes attorneys would take the challenge up for free.

His gubernatorial campaign also has initiated a petition effort to urge Mr. Cooper to sue. But he rejected questions about whether he is using the issue to advance his gubernatorial candidacy.

He said he believes the federal reform's impact on the state's TennCare program could cost the state $215 million a year and perhaps as much as $400 million by 2014.

Other GOP candidates for governor, including U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., have attacked the new federal law.

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