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House falls short of GAMC veto override

Paul Demko//March 1, 2010//

House falls short of GAMC veto override

Paul Demko//March 1, 2010//

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Matt Dean
Rep. Matt Dean

After two hours-plus of floor debate this afternoon, House Democrats failed to peel off a single Republican vote to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of General Assistance Medical Care legislation. House DFLers came up three votes shy of the two-thirds majority required to enact the bill without Pawlenty’s signature.

The GAMC legislation initially passed the House last month by an overwhelming 125-9 margin. But Republicans vowed to stand with the governor in thwarting the legislation from becoming law. The GAMC program provides health insurance to roughly 35,000 poor single adults at any given time, many of whom suffer from mental illness and chemical addiction.

Legislative leaders and the Pawlenty administration had been in frequent negotiations on the matter in recent days. According to a memo from Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, they met seven times just in the last five days, including a session on Sunday evening. But the talks failed to result in an agreement and Democrats argued that the clock had run out.

“We did not sever negotiations,” said Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, a key figure in the GAMC talks. “We have no choice but to move forward with this today.”

That’s because, starting today, individuals currently enrolled in GAMC will begin receiving notices informing them that they will be automatically enrolled in the state’s MinnesotaCare program. But Democrats have argued that the program is more costly and that it’s unsuitable for the GAMC population because it requires monthly premiums and cumbersome paperwork.

“How do we send out letters to homeless Minnesotans to tell them their health care is changing?” asked House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm. “How are they going to receive that letter? … How are they going to figure that out? They’re not.”

But Republicans accused their counterparts across the aisle of prematurely cutting off talks in order to score political points. They argued that there’s still plenty of time to achieve a compromise before GAMC enrollees are dropped from the program at the end of the month.

“I would like to return to the negotiating table,” said Matt Dean, GOP-Dellwood, who has been a key player in talks. “I think the governor would like that. He is negotiating in good faith.”

Despite the lengthy floor debate, it seemed clear early on that there would be no bipartisan consensus on how to proceed. Rep. Jim Abeler, GOP-Anoka, said that Republicans initially supported the bill because they believed it would be further improved during conference committee. But instead the Senate passed the House’s version of the bill and sent it directly to Pawlenty’s desk.

“The reason I voted yes to get it to conference is because I wanted a better bill than we have now,” Abeler said. “We still have time.”

After failing to override the governor’s veto, Democrats voted to lay the legislation on the table. That means that it could come up for another override vote at any time.

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