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The Assembly passed one of the year's most controversial and intensively lobbied bills Thursday -- imposing rate regulation on health insurers -- after Republicans walked out of the chamber in protest.

GOP members wanted to call a caucus to discuss the measure, Assembly Bill 52 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, but Speaker John A. Perez refused to call a recess. Democrats then defeated a recess motion with leaders saying Republicans were trying to stall long enough to kill the bill because of Friday's deadline for action.

The GOP retreated to the Rules Committee room off the chamber and closed the door.

Without Republicans on the floor, the remaining Democrats conducted a brief debate, with Feuer arguing that regulation by the insurance commissioner is needed because "health insurance rates are skyrocketing." Several Democrats were critical of the bill but just one, Sacramento's Richard Pan, voted against it as the measure was sent to the Senate on a 42-1 vote. Pan is a physician.

Health access groups and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, whose presence on the floor prior to the bill debate had irked Republicans, have lobbied for the bill while health insurers, backed by business groups, oppose it.

Republicans, meanwhile, ended their off-the-floor meeting about 30 minutes later, but were clearly still peeved about what they called unprecedented and disrespectful actions by their Democratic colleagues.

"I think you just saw the budget explode," said Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore. "Over the stupidest reasons the Speaker has decided apparently to disrespect the Republican leader and the Republican caucus and I think there's going to be significant consequences for that."

Democrats shot back by pointing out that their colleagues returned shortly before Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers paid a visit to the floor to be honored by Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda.

"The Republicans walked out on their job and on the consumers of California, but managed to come back to work 30 minutes later when it was time to get autographs from a famous football player," said Perez spokeswoman Robin Swanson.


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