Senators debated the state's main appropriations bill for nearly eight hours on Thursday, centered on the topic of women's health.LB 327, introduced by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk at the request of Gov. Pete Ricketts, outlines the state's budget for the biennium that begins in July and extends to June 30, 2019.
The budget includes appropriations for everything from education to Medicaid. However, the main point of debate Thursday was women's health care.
Planned Parenthood implications
The first point of debate was the wording of appropriations for reimbursements for medical services like pap smears and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
The wording in the amendment said the amount for this aid will be "up to $653,759 General Funds" per year. The words "up to" made some senators say that the Department of Health and Human Services could appropriate less than this amount for those medical services.
The second issue dealt with appropriation for Title X, a federal aid program for family planning and related medical services like contraceptive services. The wording in the proposed legislation says that HHS can prioritize this funding to any of several health care entities that deal with Title X, except stand-alone facilities like Planned Parenthood were omitted.
"This is pernicious language. It is anti-women language," Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said. "The purpose is to hurt women."
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus drafted another amendment to resolve these two problems with the legislation. One would eliminate the words "up to" and remove the references to HHS prioritization of Title X funds.
Schumacher said if funding to these stand-alone facilities were to be cut, clinics in more rural areas of Nebraska could be without Title X services.
Proponents also took issue with the way the wording ended up in the legislation. Many senators, such as Chambers and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, referred to it as a "sneaky" way to defund stand-alone health clinics like Planned Parenthood.
Opponents, like Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, noted that the wording was in the legislation approved by the Revenue Committee. Hilgers said it may be true that it should've gone to a different committee, but it is not true that it didn't have a public hearing.
Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard also opposed AM 1198 saying that the wording on Title X funding gives clarity and guidelines to HHS for prioritization of Title X funds.
Debate heated for several hours on the language of the appropriations bill, and the mention of Planned Parenthood raised talk of abortion. Chambers said the wording in the legislation was a way to sneak abortion policy into an appropriations bill.
"It's abortion that we're talking about," Chambers said. "Most of Planned Parenthood's work has nothing to do with abortion."
Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue was even more vocal than Chambers when abortion came up. Blood also thought the language used is a cover for the section's actual purpose.
"I'm trying to find the most polite way to say this on the mic, but good grief, get out of my nether regions. You don't belong there," Blood said. "This language is going to hurt people. Don't tell me it's something that it isn't."
Schumacher's amendment was eventually put to vote, but fell short of the necessary 25 votes needed to pass (17 yes, 19 no, 12 not voting). Chambers immediately moved to reconsider the vote, and debate resumed.
After a recess, senators returned to the floor in a much calmer state.
Pansing Brooks even suggested an amendment to compromise on the language used in the bill. This amendment would add stand-alone clinics into HSS's prioritization list, but it wouldn't specifically require it to be funded.
Many senators said they were fine with the proposed compromise, and tensions seemed quelled until Chambers voiced his opposition.
"That's not a compromise. You're giving them everything they want," Chambers said.
Debate finally ended nearly eight hours after it started, when Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk urged lawmakers to give the bill first-round approval and work on a compromise before the bill comes up for second-round consideration.
Lawmakers voted 36 -1 with 11 not voting to move the bill on for further consideration.