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Governor vetoes health, education bill

It appears there may be no health care reform and hockey probably will not be Minnesota's state sport any time soon.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty Tuesday vetoed a bill designed to begin reforming the state's health care system. He also vetoed an education measure that, among other things, would have raised the mandatory school attendance age from 16 to 18 and made hockey the state sport.

The vetoes came early Tuesday evening, just before budget talks broke off.

In a letter to lawmakers announcing the health care veto, he said the goal of everyone at the beginning of this year's legislative session was not met.

"The goal was to make fundamental changes in how we deliver and provide care in order to lower costs and improve quality, and to use some of the savings to expand access," he wrote. "Unfortunately, many months later, this bill fails to achieve those goals."

Rep. Tom Huntley, the health bill's House author, was frustrated, but not surprised by the veto.

"We have a tremendous opportunity in Minnesota to do something great in health care," Huntley (DFL-Duluth) said while awaiting Pawlenty's decision.

Huntley said there still is time to reach an agreement with the governor.

"I am convinced the governor wants to get something done," he said. "I'm still optimistic on this one."

Pawlenty said the bill mostly expands access to state health programs "at the expense of meaningful cost containment and quality improvement."

The Republican governor earlier warned Democrats in charge of the Legislature that he could not accept a bill that focused on putting more Minnesotans on state health programs. He called such provisions in the bill "excessive and irresponsible."

Lawmakers stripped some controversial provisions from the health reform bill, but Huntley said it still would cut expected health care cost increases by 10-15 percent in the coming years.

Pawlenty complained the bill would allow some Minnesotans making four times the level federal officials consider as poverty to receive state aid.

The education bill was "a step backward for education accountability and high expectations," Pawlenty wrote in his veto message. Among other complaints, Pawlenty said the bill places too many unfunded mandates on local schools.

Raising the student drop out age to 18 is a good idea, Pawlenty said. However, he said the bill does not address potential problems schools could face, such as disciplinary issues because some older students would be forced to attend school against their will.

Pawlenty encouraged lawmakers to give him another bill, in a future legislative session, that raises the mandatory school attendance age.

The governor, a big hockey fan, did not mention the hockey provision in his veto letter. Much of the discussion about the bill centered on that issue.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report. Davis and Wente work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Park Rapids Enterprise.