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Is Rep. Erin Murphy a ‘saint or sinner’?

A lawmaker described her as “St. Erin” at a hearing Thursday, but state Rep.

A lawmaker described her as “St. Erin” at a hearing Thursday, but state Rep. Erin Murphy said later she’s not so sure about that.

The setting was a committee hearing on another bill [PDF] to restore the General Assistance Medical Care program for poor adults without children. Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, has been shepherding a solution since last fall. And Thursday was the first House hearing on the compromise negotiated with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his administration.

“It’s significantly underfunded from my perspective,” Murphy, an assistant majority leader, told the House Health Care and Human Services Division. (Watch the hearing here.) 

Still, she ticked off some pluses: the program continues health care for the poor, MinnesotaCare “remains solvent” and reforms are included. The minuses besides underfunding: the challenges of delivering a new care model under a tight schedule.

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And then she paused for her conclusion, struggling to keep her emotions in check.

“Most importantly … for those who live in the shadows, we have affirmed they have a place in Minnesota, and we aren’t going to abandon them,” she said.

“Wow,” she said, recovering. “It’s been a long week.”

At one point during subsequent testimony from the public, Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, noted that Murphy is being called “St. Erin” across the community for her work on resurrecting the program. Last May, Pawlenty used his line-item veto and unallotment to strike $396 million in second-year funding for the program. He wanted to shift enrollees to MinnesotaCare, a move that eventually would have bankrupted the Health Care Access Fund. Then he vetoed a bipartisan solution last month, and the House was unable to override it.

One provider after another testified Thursday that the compromise would have severe impacts on their operations, but all seemed to agree that the bill was better than nothing. Most thanked Murphy, and Reps. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, and Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, for their efforts.

Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, was the only member to vote against passing the bill to the House Finance Committee, which meets this afternoon.  

“When the administration comes up and calls this a step forward. I don’t think for anybody else in this room this is a step forward,” said Thissen, a gubernatorial candidate. “It’s a step forward, maybe from the administration’s perspective, because they were going to zero-out this program. But in no other world can this be conceived as a step forward.”

Said Murphy: “After hearing all that, I think you can now know why I’m not sure if I’m a saint or a sinner after this.”

Correction: Rep. Nora Slawik’s name was misspelled in the original version of this post and has been updated with the correct spelling.