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Legislative briefs: House sustains GAMC veto

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.

Primary OK'd

The Senate unanimously approved moving the Minnesota primary election to August, a month earlier than under current law, to comply with federal requirements to give soldiers and other overseas Americans more time to vote.

The Monday vote followed an overwhelming recent House vote, sending the bill to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk. Pawlenty on Monday said he would sign the bill if it did not contain extraneous provisions.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who administers elections, hailed the bill's passage as an important "step to make sure our soldiers and all Minnesotans can vote."

While Minnesota primary turnout traditionally is low, Ritchie said that with lots of money expected to be spent this year, at least in the Democratic governor's race, 2010 turnout could be better than usual.

Politicians say August is a time of low political interest, so short of a hot race turnout can be expected to be low.

In 2008, 419,474 Minnesotans voted in the primary election. Nearly 3 million voted in the November general election.

Up to 100,000 Minnesotans typically are overseas at election time, Ritchie said, but even during a high-interest election like in 2008, just 16,000 voted.

Puck talk

Sunday's Olympic gold medal hockey game overshadowed other issues Monday as Canada's consul general for the Upper Midwest addressed Minnesota lawmakers.

Martin Loken apologized for Canada's win, and praised Minnesota for sending more Olympians than any other state.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, welcomed Loken, saying that "the events of the last 24 hours notwithstanding," the two countries have close ties.

Loken agreed: "For well over 100 years, Canada and the United States have been the closest of neighbors and friends."

Haiti tax break

The House Monday followed the Senate's lead and unanimously passed a measure allowing Minnesotans filing income tax returns now to deduct donations to Haiti earthquake relief from last year's taxes.

Without the bill, Minnesotans would need to wait a year before receiving the deduction.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.