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Legislators looking to Pawlenty's departure

ST. PAUL -- Even some of the program's most ardent supporters say a bill the Legislature passed this session to save health care for the poor was not the bill they wanted.

But with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's term ending in January, many are hoping they will have another chance to tackle General Assistance Medical Care next year.

"It was about trying to achieve as much as we could within the timeframe we were presented with," said Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. "I think we'll make improvements to the legislation yet this session and next year."

GAMC is one of several issues where lawmakers -- particularly from the DFL, which holds majorities in both the House and Senate -- have settled for short-term fixes or held off altogether in hopes that January will bring a Democrat governor who is more receptive to their ideas.

Most social issues have been tabled for now, said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar. Long-term solutions to health care issues beyond GAMC, education reform and long-term budget deficits also have not been addressed completely.

Pawlenty "wasn't at all interested in doing anything big and bold in those areas," said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, pointed at medical marijuana as another issue that has disappeared in Pawlenty's final year.

"He vetoed a bill last year that would have provided another option for people who were in the last throes of life," he said. "The people who have traditionally supported medicinal marijuana will be back next year and it will pass next year."

Murphy acknowledged this happens at every change in the governor's office, but said this year has been worse.

Such a strategy could be risky, said Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley. He knows if a Republican candidates wins the election, changes could be minimal next year.

Even some Republicans acknowledge the likelihood that some issues that will not be debated in 2010. It only makes sense for lawmakers on the opposite sides of issues as the governor to focus on issues they know have a chance to pass, said Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake.

"They know where Gov. Pawlenty stands," the assistant House minority leader said. "If they are on the opposite side ... I could see where they would be thinking 'let's wait, let's see what the elections entail,'" he said.

Such issues arrive every time there is an election, said Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids. "It does depend on the importance of the issue," she said, noting the eventual passage of GAMC despite much dissatisfaction with the final product.

Others dispute the theory. Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, said she and colleagues are working hard on several important issues, such as Race to the Top education reform and economic development.

"Some of us have tried to be a bridge between groups that don't work together as well as they could," she said.

Others, even if they do believe some issues are being left behind, do not put all the blame on Pawlenty's term ending.

Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said he would like to see legislators start addressing recurring budget deficits. But House members are up for re-election as well.

"That's not going to happen this year," Magnus said. "Everyone wants to get out of here with the least amount of damage done and come back after elections and try to fix this mess."

Andrew Tellijohn reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.