Legislative panel warms to Ricketts plan on family planning funds

February 28, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations Committee is still trying to decide how to handle Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposed changes to the use of federal family planning dollars.

But an informal vote taken by the committee on Monday suggests that there’s some appetite among the senators for keeping Ricketts’ proposal in the larger budget bill headed to the floor of the Legislature.

Similar language was deemed a “poison pill” in last year’s state budget package and was removed as abortion politics took center stage in a larger debate on the budget.

State Sen. John Stinner, the committee chairman, said that this year, some have expressed a desire to separate the debate on the changes to federal Title X funding from the larger budget debate. That way, the budget can be debated and discussed outside of a larger discussion on abortion.

Five of the nine senators on the committee disagreed and said they would support keeping the proposal in the budget .

Senators are still weighing the pros and cons of keeping the language in the main budget bill or moving it to a separate bill that would be taken up along with the other appropriations bills but require a separate vote.

A formal decision from the committee will probably come later this week.

In his proposed state budget, Ricketts recommended ending Title X funding to entities that perform, counsel or refer for abortion.

Title X funds are used to pay for contraceptives, cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and related services for low-income women and men.

The money can’t be used for abortions, but many abortion opponents believe the funds free up resources that can be used for abortion. Meanwhile, program supporters say the funds prevent unintended pregnancy.

In a hearing earlier this month, the committee heard conflicting testimony about what Ricketts’ proposal would do.

Opponents of Ricketts’ proposal said it would put all Title X clinics at risk and limit access to health care. Supporters said changes to federal law would prevent that from happening.