LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s state finances remained in limbo Friday after lawmakers failed for a second time to advance a wide-ranging budget bill because of a dispute over health clinics that refer women to abortion providers.
Lawmakers fell two votes short of the 33 that were needed to end debate on the measure and allow an up-or-down vote. The vote marked the second time this week that the budget bill has stalled, an unprecedented situation that drew an angry rebuke from Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer.
“We need to grow up, we need to do our jobs, quit isolating ourselves and start working together,” Scheer said.
At issue is a provision requested by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts that would deny federal family-planning money to health clinics if they perform abortions or refer patients to clinics that do. Federal law already forbids abortion providers from getting so-called Title X money, but opponents argue that the bill could jeopardize funding for health centers that provide referrals.
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Ricketts proposed the requirement in January, saying the budget should reflect Nebraska’s status as a “pro-life state.” The provision amounts to roughly $1.9 million in federal money administered by the state.
If the $8.8 billion, two-year budget doesn’t pass before the session ends on April 18, funding could be delayed for state programs such as child welfare services. Some senators have predicted that the Legislature would have to return to the Capitol for an emergency special session.
“By filibustering the mainline budget, some state senators are putting vital state services for our children at risk,” Ricketts said after the vote.
Supporters say the proposal is important because of a 2016 state audit that accused Planned Parenthood of the Heartland of misusing at least $3,500 in public money for physician fees, staff salaries and pathology work related to abortion. Planned Parenthood denied the allegations, saying the money in question was privately raised but that the expenses were miscoded by staff members filling out reports. The group also said the audit was politically motivated.
Opponents of the provision said Ricketts shouldn’t have inserted a divisive social policy into the state budget. Several senators said the governor hasn’t responded to their requests to negotiate a compromise.
“It’s a pernicious and determined attempt to discriminate against women’s health care,” said Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, of Lincoln. “This is about women’s health care, women’s lives.”
Pansing Brooks said the abortion debate has distracted from other budget issues such as state funding for schools, child welfare services and water conservation.
Sen. Bob Krist, of Omaha, a Democratic candidate for governor, said Ricketts should have introduced the issue as a stand-alone bill rather than inserting it into a budget that includes important funding for a variety of state services.
Krist said the proposal was the governor’s attempt to inject “Washington-style politics” into the Legislature. The Nebraska Republican Party has accused Krist of “holding our state budget hostage to protect abortion providers” because of his opposition to the bill.
The budget bill stalled for the first time on Wednesday, when supporters tried unsuccessfully to overcome a legislative filibuster.
Scheer said the issue was important, but argued that lawmakers have spent far too much time regurgitating old arguments without reaching an agreement that would let them pass the budget.
He said he returned the bill to the Legislature’s agenda on Friday because he believed there was enough support to break the filibuster, but a few senators broke their promise to vote in favor of ending the debate and allowing a vote on the budget.
“When we give our word, that is our bond,” he said. “If I can’t trust people when they a ‘yes’ is a ‘yes,’ this institution is in a world of trouble.”
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