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Thursday, December 19, 2013

 3:27 PM 

Senate adjouns

The Senate has adjourned its special session.

The chamber is set to return in regular session on Jan. 14.

 3:20 PM 

Senate passes delay in BadgerCare changes

The Senate voted 18-12 today to concur in special session legislation pushing back changes to enrollment standards in the state’s Medicaid programs, sending it to the governor’s desk for signature.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, urged Republicans to push back against a wrong decision from the governor.

“This is our money. We’re sending back $109 million,” Hansen said, referring to the Medicaid expansion funding. “Today is not a proud day as a state legislator.”

Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, countered that the Affordable Care Act will add to an already massive federal deficit and that Dems didn’t “get their act together” to make sure the Obamacare law worked.

“One party doesn’t care, just doesn’t seem to care, about living within a budget or where the money comes from,” Lasee said.

 3:05 PM 

On to final passage

Following the tabling of two Dem amendments by 17-13 margins, the BadgerCare bill has been read for a third time and we’re now onto final passage.

 2:56 PM 

Senate sub tabled

The Senate voted 17-13 to table the substitute amendment on Medicaid expansion funding.

Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, voted with the 12 Dems in the chamber today. In addition to Sen. Tim Cullen, who’s recovering from heart surgery, fellow Dems Fred Risser of Madison and Kathleen Vinehout of Alma aren’t on the floor today. Vinehout is recovering from surgery for a broken arm sustained in a car crash earlier this month.

We’re now onto two simple amendments from Dems. One would temporarily maintain BadgerCare Plus Core Plan levels and prohibit the Department of Health Services from maintaining a waiting list; the other would allow individual counties to seek Medicaid expansion funding.

 1:56 PM 

Debate on Medicaid expansion continues

The Senate continues to debate the first of three amendments offered by Dems today, a substitute amendment that would require the state to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said accepting that funding, even on a temporary basis, would allow for coverage of both childless adults living in poverty and for those between 100 and 133 percent of the poverty level -- instead of pitting those groups against each other.

“In his budget, Gov. Walker made a promise,” Erpenbach said of those under the poverty line slated to become eligible for BadgerCare on Jan. 1. “We’re here today to make sure that promise is seen through. It’s a very simple thing to do.”

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said it would be irresponsible for the state to take on more people in its Medicaid programs in light of the issues with the health care law. She said the three-month delay for the “Wisconsin plan” would give lawmakers time to see how the law moves forward after the exchange problems.

Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, added he believes the website won’t be ready by the new BadgerCare deadline of April 1, and that the problems will affect the law’s funding mechanism.

“It’s going to crash under its own weight,” Gudex said of the law.

Erpenbach said lawmakers can talk about the Affordable Care Act endlessly, but “it really, truly doesn’t matter what you think, ‘cause it’s law.”

Dems also countered that states around Wisconsin -- including those with GOP governors -- have accepted that funding, and argued Minnesota is seeing better coverage and lower costs because of the decision to craft a state-specific exchange website.

“This legislation doesn’t have a conscience,” said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.

 12:58 PM 

Fitzgerald: Obamacare ‘yanked the rug out from under us’

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald opened the debate on legislation to delay BadgerCare changes by criticizing the Affordable Care Act for creating a “mess” in Wisconsin.

“We have done a pretty good job in Wisconsin of managing health care through this body and the Assembly,” Fitzgerald said, noting that the state, prior to the passage of the law, had one of the lowest uninsured populations in the country.

“I did support, initially, the idea that if you were in poverty … that certainly there should be a place for you to go to find health insurance,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the state’s high-risk pool became “a model for the nation.”

He said lawmakers are in session in late December due to the failures in the rollout of the insurance exchanges under Obamacare, saying congressional Dems “kind of yanked the rug out from under us in Wisconsin” by passing the law.

“We needed them to leave us alone,” Fitzgerald said, predicting that it would eventually be up to states to fix problems with the health care law.

Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, countered that lawmakers are only in the Capitol today because “the governor wants to thread a political needle.”

Larson said Gov. Walker is attempting to distance himself from Obamacare funding while embracing the exchanges, calling on Republicans to embrace “a third way” and accept Medicaid expansion funding.

“Not having access to health care is a matter of life or death, and that is beyond the inconvenience of a website,” Larson said.

He added that the expansion is projected to create more than 10,000 net jobs, more than any program proposed by “any Republican, any Democrat, and especially by this governor.”

 12:01 PM 

Senate to begin at 12:30

Senate President Mike Ellis just announced a half-hour delay for the beginning of session.

Ellis, R-Neenah, urged members of both parties to conclude their caucuses on time because of the "foul weather" due later in the day.

 11:55 AM 

Dems renew call for accepting Medicaid expansion funding

Senate Dems called on Republicans to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid in a press conference prior to today’s session.

“Let’s do the right thing,” said Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee. “Let’s accept Wisconsin’s fair share of federal funds to strengthen BadgerCare.”

He said the crisis was created by the governor’s decision to reject the funding in the state budget, a decision made only to “appease tea party primary voters on Gov. Walker’s political horizon.”

Larson said the proposal before the Senate today pits two of the state’s poorest populations against each other, while Sen. Dave Hansen said the plan, if approved, would lead to 83,000 childless adults living in poverty scrambling for health care within days of Christmas.

“It’s almost like a return to the time of Scrooge,” said Hansen, D-Green Bay.

 1:12 PM 

Dems continue to hammer BadgerCare proposal

Despite the BadgerCare bill being passed and messaged to the Senate, Dems continue to rail against the measure under the 14th order of business.

Several said they had pressed their buttons to speak on passage but were not recognized. Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, had indicated that the speaking queue was empty at the time the roll call was taken.

“I’m very disappointed that the voices of the representatives of the people were not heard in a timely fashion,” said Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton.

Rep. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, told members she had a tumor removed earlier this session, but could only feel relief that her health problems did not occur prior to taking office since she did not have insurance coverage before that.

“Those are things we take for granted in this body because … you don’t know,” Johnson said.

“We can do better but we choose not to.”

 12:43 PM 

Assembly passes delay in BadgerCare enrollment changes

After well over an 90 minutes of debate on referring the special session bill back to the committee level, the chamber moved quickly to pass the bill by a 64-32 margin.

The motion to refer the bill and a second a second substitute amendment from Dems -- which would have accepted Medicaid expansion funding on a temporary basis -- were tabled 58-38.

The chamber also rejected an amendment from Rep. Brett Hulsey of Madison 82-14. It would have required the state Justice Department to investigate the Walker administration for potential fraud under the Affordable Care Act.

The roll call was then taken without further debate, though some Dems have since indicated they wanted to speak.

 11:01 AM 

Dems move to send bill back to committee

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, proposed moving the bill back to the Assembly Health Committee, saying the Senate isn’t set to take up the measure until later in the month.

He said Republicans should use that time to get the governor’s support for a three-month expansion of Medicaid expansion funding.

“You are not being compassionate. Do not say that anymore,” Jorgensen said of the 83,000 childless adults that were set to become eligible for BadgerCare at the beginning of next year.

Speaker Vos responded that Dems were responsible for the initial cap on coverage for those individuals, and that Republicans were simply attempting to maintain current coverage for Wisconsinites in the wake of the health care law’s website problems.

“We are trying once again to have faith in the president,” Vos said.

 10:26 AM 

Dems criticize Medicaid expansion decision

Debate on a three-month delay in BadgerCare enrollment changes began with a Dem amendment to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid, which was shot down 57-38.

“We are here today because of the governor’s inaction on accepting Medicaid dollars,” said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

Mason called the GOP proposal a “false choice” that asks lawmakers to “help one group of people by denying coverage to another group of people.”

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Wisconsin was the only state in the position of taking special legislative action to deal with the Affordable Care Act, while Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the issue is a matter of “life or death” for many Wisconsinites.

“You’re going to kick 80,000 people that are banking on you keeping your word,” Barca said.

Republicans fired back that their only mistake was believing the promises of the federal government on Obamacare, particularly President Obama’s assertion that people could keep their previous health coverage.

“At the very best, he misled the American public,” said Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. “At the very worst, he bold-face lied.”

Vos also defended the state’s rejection of Medicaid dollars in favor of covering all those under the federal poverty line.

“We kept our part of the bargain, but the federal government didn’t keep theirs,” Vos said.

 10:11 AM 

Rodriguez, Kulp sworn in

The state Assembly is now at 98 members after Jessie Rodriguez, R-Franklin, and Bob Kulp, R-Stratford, were sworn in to the 21st and 69th districts at the outset of this morning's session.

The 99th seat will be filled later this month in the special election in the 82nd AD.

With that, we're onto special session legislation to delay changes to BadgerCare enrollment.

 8:09 AM 

Assembly to take up delay in BadgerCare changes in special session

The Assembly will be on the floor today to take up legislation pushing back by three months moving thousands of people from BadgerCare to the federally run health care exchange.

The legislation would also extend by three months the Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Program and delay providing BadgerCare coverage to 83,000 childless adults living in poverty who aren’t covered by the program now.

The chamber will also swear in its two newest members: Jessie Rodriguez, R-Franklin, in the 21st and Bob Kulp, R-Stratford, in the 69th.

The additions will put the GOP majority at 59-39 with the 82nd AD still vacant. That seat, formerly held by Republican Jeff Stone, will be filled in a Dec. 17 special election.

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