By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) – Gov. Rick Snyder is traveling Michigan to pressure Republican senators to get back to the Capitol – stat – and vote to provide health insurance to nearly half the state’s uninsured residents.
One hitch: The Senate and House chambers are likely out of commission for at least two months as new carpet is installed and technology is upgraded.
When lawmakers adjourned a week ago, crews immediately removed desks and ripped out Victorian-era replica carpet that was at least 20 years old and held together in places with duct tape. Now, backup plans are in the works in case Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, decides to hold a vote on Medicaid expansion before Aug. 27, the next day that attendance is to be taken and votes recorded.
Options include meeting in the Capitol’s Senate Appropriations room – less ideal because it’s small for all 38 senators, their staff, press and the public – or the historic Boji Tower across the street, which has a large committee hearing room on the first floor.
It’s also possible the senators could still gather in the chamber depending on what work is going on at the time, said Senate Secretary Carol Viventi.
“If we need to hold session, we will find a place to do it,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.
Workers also are updating technology under the House and Senate floors – cables for the electronic voting systems, computer wiring and electrical adapters. Hearing loops are being installed in the viewing galleries so it’s easier for people with hearing aids and cochlear implants to listen.
Without the electronic voting boards, votes could be tallied by voice or hand like in the old days. When the Capitol was renovated from 1989 to 1992, senators met at times in a Capitol committee room while representatives gathered in an office building that has since been turned into a parking garage.
The Capitol upgrades are another twist in Snyder’s months-long push for Medicaid expansion, an option for states under the federal health care law. The Republican governor cut short a trade trip in Israel last week – scheduled months ago for a week when the Legislature was supposed to be gone – to try to save a House plan approved two weeks ago that he sees as a pragmatic way to make the Affordable Care Act a positive for Michigan and to save money.
But Richardville wants at least half of the Senate’s 26 Republicans to back Medicaid expansion or at least support proceeding with a vote. Expansion advocates believe if a vote had been called, eight to 11 Republicans would have joined all 12 Democrats to send a measure to Snyder’s desk.
Richardville spokeswoman Amber McCann said the majority leader didn’t hold a vote June 20 because the bill would have been defeated.
“He truly believes it would have ended the discussion on Medicaid,” she said. “The expansion of an entitlement program is not typically a Republican value.”
To pressure reluctant GOP senators in their districts and drum up public support, Snyder has visited four hospitals this week to call for a vote while meeting with sympathetic medical and business officials who support adding 470,000 low-income adults to Medicaid.
Richardville on Wednesday named a group of six Republican senators to meet over the summer to consider the issue. The group has no timeline to make a recommendation, though Snyder says time is running out if Michigan is to get federal approval in time to cover new enrollees starting Jan. 1.
The next technical legislative session day is Wednesday – when Senate Democrats plan to show up – though no one expects action. Non-voting session days also have been scheduled for July 18, Aug. 2 and Aug. 16, and Snyder is going to keep demanding a vote on those days.
Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said his visits around the state are getting senators’ attention.
“If you step back and take the politics away from it, from a policy standpoint it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
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