Abortion provision causes stir as House, Senate comb through budget

Associated Press
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

New Hampshire House and Senate budget negotiators combed through competing two-year spending plans Monday, but it was an anti-spending provision on abortion that caused a stir.

A conference committee is working to reconcile differences between the $11.8 billion budget passed by the Senate and an $11.9 billion proposal backed by the House Finance Committee but ultimately rejected by the full House when a small group of conservative Republicans voted with Democrats.

In a late-night session last month, the Senate added language to its version prohibiting the state from giving money to health care facilities to provide abortions. Republicans argued the language simply codifies current practice under federal law, but Democrats called it an attack on women’s reproductive rights.

“Because federal law already prohibits the use of tax dollars on abortion services, this amendment is a political statement, not a budget statement,” said Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Democrat from Concord and one of the conference committee members.

Rep. Katherine Rogers, another Concord Democrat, said that reproductive rights are one of the strongest tenets of the Democratic Party and that she would vote against the budget if the provision remains in the final proposal.

“They’ll be lucky if they get three Democratic votes,” she said.

Monday afternoon was the group’s second meeting. Members started by spending several hours listing all the items that still need further discussion, ranging from mental health programs to education to substance abuse treatment.

They then approved a boost in spending for state domestic violence crisis centers to $1 million over the biennium and cut a proposed $600,000 increase for New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

Most of the decisions were worked out behind closed doors and then presented in public. A plan to double the percentage of state alcohol profits going to a substance abuse treatment fund was approved and a portion of the money will still be earmarked for the Boys & Girls Club.

Despite some representatives’ objections, the committee opted to strike a welfare-to-work program from the budget.

“I know there are a number of work programs in the state, but this one was specifically designed around a very special population of people who need help,” Wallner said, referencing the program known as Gateway to Work.

“I share your concerns and I agree with you,” Republican Rep. Neal Kurk of Weare responded. “But we couldn't convince the Senate.”