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Six Republicans Cleared to Vote on Medicaid

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 17 Jun 2013 10:36am | comments

A ruling by the state's ethics commission could signal that a special session of the state legislature is coming soon.  Six Republicans will be allowed to vote on bills that deal with Medicaid.

The six lawmakers had recused themselves from voting during the session because of financial ties to the health care industry such as being a paramedic, a nurse or working for a hospital.

 The ethics commission voted 5-to-3 on Friday that the members can vote without violating state ethics laws.

 Commission Chair Ben Stone says legislators can vote on bills to re-authorize and fund the program and against Medicaid expansion.

"They could not vote for expansion because that would mean money in their pockets but they can vote against that, yes," explained Stone. "Those are very carefully defined words and we narrowly defined the answers."

 Just last year the commission ruled that members with financial ties to Medicaid could not vote.

 Supporters now cite a 2005 ethics ruling that allows lawmakers who are married to public educators to vote on the education budget.

 The ruling comes amid a heavy political cloud.

 Governor Phil Bryant and other GOP leaders hope the additional six votes will be enough to break the stalemate that has threatened to shut down the Medicaid program at the end of the month.

 Commission member William Wheeler, who was appointed by a Democrat, says the vote appears to be politically motivated.

"These people are going to be receiving money from these state appropriations, but its of if you vote 'no' not to expand Medicaid, and that's just not sensible and not logical and we're reversing precedent that I have a big problem with," said Wheeler.

 Democrats cried foul over the Governor asking the commission to let the members vote.

 They were also concerned when the Speaker of the House hosting a private dinner at the capitol that included commission member Billy Powell.

 Powell says the dinner had not impact on his vote.

"Not at all, none whatsoever," stated Powell.  "I consider those guys friends, but I vote my opinion, what I think is right, so I have no pressure whatsoever."

 Because of a partisan dispute over whether to expand Medicaid, legislators ended their three-month regular session without setting a budget for the program or even re-authorizing it.

 The additional Republican votes could mean the Governor will soon call a special session to fund and re-authorize the program.






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