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The Utah Senate rejected an alternative to Gov. Gary Herbert's plan to expand Medicaid Thursday.
North Ogden Republican Sen. Allen Christensen tried to convince his colleagues that his legislation to cover the "medically frail" could be a backup plan to another bill that would put Herbert's Healthy Utah proposal in place.
He asked senators to move his SB153 to the third reading calendar, where it would wait until the fate of SB164, Healthy Utah, is clear.
But senators rejected Christensen's backup plan, 9-17, siding instead with SB164's sponsor, Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights. His bill passed the Senate on Tuesday. Passing a backup bill would dilute the Senate's position of strength in negotiations with House leaders, Shiozawa argued.
Christensen's bill would serve about a tenth as many poor Utahns as the governor's.
House Speaker Greg Hughes insisted again Thursday that he will not waste his body's time on a bill Healthy Utah that has no chance of passing. He said House leaders are willing to negotiate, but that SB164 is seriously flawed.
Shiozawa, however, told his colleagues: "Healthy Utah is not dead. We need to send one firm voice, one unequivocal voice over to the House.
"We've done our work," he added. "They need to do theirs."
Christensen argued that sending his modest Medicaid expansion to the next vote would give the Senate flexibility in the final days of the session.
"I don't want to just kill it (Healthy Utah)," he said, "and have no options available."
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, agreed. "To hold it is absolutely nuts," he said.
But Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, asked why the Senate would want to "empower" the House. "I'm wondering why we should let what the House says or thinks influence what we do on the floor?"
And Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said, "We're giving the wrong signal to the House if we send two bills over."
In a press conference after the House Republican caucus met Thursday, Hughes angrily denounced advocates for trying to persuade representatives to back Healthy Utah.
Showing a flyer from the Alliance for a Better Utah, Hughes called it "bullying" and funded by "dark money."
The alliance is a progressive, government-reform group.