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Minn. House approves $11B health budget, OKs drug tests for lawmakers

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Minnesota House lawmakers capped hours of debate Monday night with a 70-to-64 vote to approve an $11.2 billion budget bill that funds state Health and Human Services programs for the next two years, beginning in July, including many programs that aid Minnesota's poorest and oldest citizens, the Star Tribune reports.

The budget also includes a $150 million cut. Critics of the cut included House Republicans, who said the cut would disproportionately hurt rural hospitals and nursing homes, the newspaper reports. Republicans blasted DFL spending priorities, given that DFL leaders propose new fees and taxes.

"It's about a $3 billion increase between fees and taxes – in the neighborhood of that – and we can't find more than $3 million to give to our nursing homes that are on the verge of closing?" asked Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, the Pioneer Press reported.

MinnPost reports more on Republican frustration with the DFL on the issue. Forum Communications reports that nursing home advocates are upset, too. “It’s hard not to feel like one of the most important things we can do as a state is protect our seniors, but we very much feel like we’re at the bottom of the food chain,” one Moorhead-based nursing home CEO said.

In about 11 hours of debate, lawmakers sought to add 87 amendments to the bill, and one successful amendment would require drug tests for lawmakers.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, had introduced an amendment that would require drug tests for Minnesota welfare recipients, so Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, countered with an amendment to test lawmakers.

If welfare recipients had to pee in a cup before they could get a check from the state, then state lawmakers should do the same, she said, the Star Tribune reported in an article about the amendment.

"Bring on the cup!" state Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said during debate, the newspaper reported. "I have nothing to fear."

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