Negotiations underway between the Attorney General’s office and plaintiffs in the Frew case not only could spare the state the pain of yet another Judge Justice decree, but could temper increasing party tensions on the Senate Finance Committee.

The AG last week began negotiations at the urging of Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, who wanted the potentially expensive case resolved while the Legislature was in session. Ogden feared the Legislature would pass a budget and leave town, only to have a court order requiring new funding force a special session.

But last week, the Senate Finance committee adopted a rider that specified that — if Judge Justice renders a judgement after the Legislature adjourns — the LBB could dip into the state budget for Medicaid and CHIP to pay for any court-ordered spending. The rider, offered by Sen. Bob Duncan, was amended yesterday with the removal of CHIP. Nonetheless, it sparked harsh criticism from Democratic members.

“You don’t just light a stick of dynamite and throw it into a crowd,” said Sen. Royce West. “This was a sensitive issue and there should have been input from the Democrats.”

While Republicans note that the proposed budget includes nearly $400 million in new Medicaid money addressing Frew issues, Democrats like West complained the rider would give too much authority to the LBB. If Justice’s decree means lawmakers have to rewrite the budget in a special session, so be it.

“That’s kinda my job — even if it means coming back,” West said.

With a hearing in the Frew case scheduled for Monday, a lot of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are praying for a settlement. Senate Finance plans to vote the bill out of committee Thursday, but Ogden is not expected to bring the bill up until Tuesday or Wednesday. By then, a settlement may rescue lawmakers from what is shaping up to be an emotionally-charged fight.