A circle of 20 legislators showed this week that partisan divisions don't have to impede work on important laws affecting the health and well-being of Minnesotans.

With a handful of questions and suggestions, the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee unanimously approved proposals to start measuring the prevalence and treatment of Alzheimer's disease in Minnesota, and to refine how abuse of vulnerable adults is handled.

The civility ground to a halt, however, as lawmakers considered House File 468, which would bar the state from spending money to implement the 2010 federal health care overhaul unless the Supreme Court finds it constitutional. The one-paragraph bill is likely to be approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature and vetoed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

It passed out of the committee, but first some DFLers took umbrage over their colleagues' use of the term "Obamacare," which they considered offensive, instead of the "Affordable Care Act." They were not pleased when the committee chairman, Rep. Steve Gottwalt, ruled either term acceptable.

Then Gottwalt and Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, had a talking-over-each-other match when Gottwalt ordered her to stop using the term "Bush's war" to describe the war in Iraq.

"We are still learning our new roles," Gottwalt acknowledged later. "[The DFLers] are not used to being in the minority, and, frankly, we're still learning how to be in leadership.''

That has been evident in other committees as newly empowered Republicans and often-frustrated DFLers adjust to new roles, in which Republicans now set the tone for legislative debates and decide which bills live or die.

Still, other health and human service bills will receive bipartisan support, said committee member Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. "We will still have vigorous disagreements, vigorous philosophical differences," she said. "But most of the time, I think we can do that and still play nice with each other."

wolfe@startribune.com • 612-673-7253