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House upholds Pawlenty veto of health program for poor

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House upheld Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a health-care program for Minnesota's poorest residents Monday, allowing negotiations on the subject to continue.

Representatives sustained the veto 86-47, with 90 needed to override, but they immediately took another vote that leaves it available for future action.

Senators already voted to override the veto.

Last week, just nine House members opposed the bill that Pawlenty quickly vetoed.

About 85,000 people would have received care in the 16 months the bill would cover.

Pawlenty's veto means single Minnesotans earning less than $8,000 a year will be enrolled automatically in MinnesotaCare, a state-subsidized health-insurance program that eventually will charge them premiums. But, Rep. Tom Huntley said in Monday's debate, anyone who otherwise would become eligible for General Assistance Medical Care after April 1 will have no coverage for at least two months.

"After April 1, somebody new showing up in a hospital, perhaps a homeless veteran, will not be able to get into GAMC," said Huntley, a Duluth Democrat and chairman of the House health finance committee.

Republicans stood united to uphold Pawlenty's veto, saying negotiations in the past several days were making progress.

"We should be going back to negotiations today, rather than have this political vote," House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.

Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, has been involved in negotiations, which went on all weekend, and said lawmakers were getting close to a bill that Pawlenty can sign.

Democrats pushed the vote on Monday because that is when the process of the MinnesotaCare enrollment began.

State and county officials are to move GAMC recipients to MinnesotaCare without them taking an action.

Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said the DFL bill costs less and serves more people than what Pawlenty proposes with MinnesotaCare coverage.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said the vote came a couple of days too early. A new budget report is due today, showing how big a deficit the state faces.

Howes was the only Republican who said that he could vote for an override, but not until he sees today's budget report.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.