Controversy erupted over proposed changes in how federal family planning money would be allocated, nearly derailing debate on the state budget.
Opponents accuse the Ricketts Administration of sneaking in a change of language which directs how the state distributes Title X funds, federal money to reimburse medical clinics for a wide range of services, including pap smears and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
The language directed the Department of Health and Human Services to prioritize clinics associated with hospitals or medical clinics. So-called stand-alone clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, were left out of the language.
Critics of the change in language, such as Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, claimed it took aim at one provider.
“I think this is a deliberate attempt to take funding away from Planned Parenthood,” Krist told colleagues during legislative floor debate on the proposed $9 billion state budget.
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus offered an amendment striking the new language, arguing that the change created policy in a budget bill, which he said should be restricted only to allocating state funds.
The amendment failed, but that didn’t end the controversy.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln offered a tentative compromise that would have included the stand-alone clinics in the priority list.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha cast doubt that allowing Planned Parenthood to be included among the prioritized clinics secured them any funding.
“And we know that none of these clinics get as much money as they need, so they’d run out of money when they get to that list of priorities and when they get to Planned Parenthood, you think they’re going to get any money?” Chambers asked.
Speaker Jim Scheer stepped in, calling for compromise.
“We’re bogged down, we’re all saying the same thing,” Scheer told colleagues. “We all want women to have services.”
His plea failed to sway Chambers, who moved to reconsider the vote on Schumacher’s amendment. When Chambers refused to yield, Scheer took the unusual step of calling for a cloture vote on a budget bill. Legislators agreed to cut off debate, then advanced the proposed budget to the second round.
Negotiations will continue on reaching a compromise on Title X funding, which could be proposed during second-round budget debate.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]