UPDATE: Senate Panel Rejects Family Planning Money

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The Senate budgeting committee rejected federal family planning money on Friday, although Republican opponents recognized they may not ultimately win the fight over the money.

Democrats tried Friday to restore the Title X money that was axed by conservatives in the House who are opposed to Planned Parenthood. The motion failed 12-8, mostly along party lines.

Supporters said the federal money is barred from being used for abortion. They argued it is needed for preventative care at Planned Parenthood and other clinics, along with birth control assistance for low-income women.

Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula argued that cutting the money will lead to more unwanted pregnancies that lead to increased Medicaid and other costs.

“This is an important policy decision we need to make regarding women’s reproductive health,” Wanzenried said.

Republicans on the panel offered no comment before rejecting the motion. In the past, they have argued that they don’t support federal money going to an organization they oppose.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Rick Ripley said he opposed the money because too many of his constituents believe the funding can go to abortion. But he said he suspects the fight over the money will end the same way it has in the past, with the governor intervening to restore the funding.

Ripley said that the governor can use his veto pen to strike the amendment to cut the money. Gov. Steve Bullock has been supportive of the funding, included it in his original budget and has criticized the GOP for cutting it.

The committee also made an across-the-board budget cut by requiring most agencies to leave 2 percent of their jobs vacant. Ripley said it would save $21 million as Republicans look for ways to trim spending as competing priorities threaten to eat up the projected surplus exceeding $400 million.

“It is a long way from where we need to end up, but it is a start,” Ripley said.

Department of Public Health and Human Services director Richard Opper had tried to convince the panel to restore 13 child welfare jobs. He said the forced vacancies will make things very difficult for his agency.

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