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The Associated Press June 10, 2010, 10:50AM ET

Tenn. bill to opt out of fed health care law fails

Tennessee lawmakers adjourned the 106th General Assembly early Thursday after failing to pass a bill to opt out of the new federal health care law.

The Senate completed its business at 1:13 a.m., while the House followed four minutes later.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville -- who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination -- and other lawmakers eager to hit the campaign trail had hoped to conclude the session by the end of April. But it was not to be.

Both chambers passed the budget -- the only piece of legislation they are constitutionally required to adopt -- last week, but spent the last few days wrangling over issues like the federal health care overhaul and mountaintop removal coal mining.

The Senate voted 22-9 to approve the Health Freedom Act, sponsored by Republican Rep. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, who said it "protects Tennesseans from the national health care."

The House earlier passed its own version of the bill, but an attempt to work out differences between the two chambers' legislation failed 44-39. Fifty votes are needed for passage.

As for mountaintop mining, the Senate voted 14-12 to reject a motion brought by Democratic Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga to resurrect a bill to curb mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee.

All 99 House seats are up for election this year, along with 17 of 33 Senate seats.

The slow pace of the regular session stood in stark contrast to the a two-week special legislative session called by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in January to enact sweeping changes to the way Tennessee evaluates teachers and how it allocates money to public colleges and universities.

The K-12 changes were credited with Tennessee being one of two states to win the first round of the federal "Race to the Top" competition. Tennessee was awarded more than $500 million.

A stalemate over the state's nearly $30 billion budget was broken after House Speaker Kent Williams agreed to delay a fish hatchery project in his home county, while Senate Republicans agreed to restore funding for the Office of Children's Care Coordination, which seeks to reduce Tennessee's infant mortality rate.

Rivalries between the two chambers emerged in the final moments of the session as the House restored several measures to a spending bill.

"We've been held hostage long enough by the Senate," Williams said from the speaker's podium, while Senators watching on television screens in the upper chamber responded with a chorus of boos.

The changes were later withdrawn amid threats in the Senate to delay the end of the session by another day.

Lawmakers spent idle moments of their last days saying farewell to their retiring colleagues. They include House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol, Rep. Joe McCord of Maryville, Sen. Dewayne Bunch of Cleveland and Sen. Tim Burchett of Knoxville. All are Republicans.

Three other Republicans -- Reps. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet, Mike Bell of Riceville and Stacey Campfield of Knoxville -- are leaving the House to run for the Senate.

Also retiring are Democratic Reps. Ben West of Nashville and John Litz of Morristown.


Associated Press Writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.

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