Push for pro-life bills continues in 2016 legislative session

02/05/2016 01:26 PM

FRANKFORT — With one pro-life bill already passed and signed by Gov. Matt Bevin and another having received its first reading in the House, the climate has changed in the Kentucky General Assembly when it comes to pro-life legislation.

For years, the Senate had worked on pro-life legislation, but it usually stalled in the House.

This year, Senate Bill 4, which allows real-time telemedicine consultations between doctors and women seeking an abortion, already has been passed by both chambers and signed by the governor.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, would re-prioritize funding for family planning by directing non-Medicaid, state-administered tax dollars to public health departments first, non-public health clinics second and then, if any money is left, to non-public groups like Planned Parenthood.

That legislation passed the Senate chamber by a 33-5 vote on Wednesday and has had its first reading in the House — thanks to maneuvering from House Republicans. On Thursday, the GOP caucus was able to SB 7 from the committee on committees, and have it read on the House floor — a critical step in preparing the legislation for a full vote on the floor of the House, despite the bill not having moved forward to the committee room.

The motion by House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover to suspend the chamber’s rules and give the bill its first reading drew a 63-9 vote.

Democrats in the House, who for years quietly killed such legislation, have seen their majority shrink to 50-46 in recent months, with four special elections set for March 5.

Hoover, R-Jamestown, told reporters Friday that he will request a second reading for SB 7, which has been sent to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, next week. He might have done so before the House adjourned for the weekend, but he said a two-hour Democratic caucus meeting had already delayed Friday’s session.

“We’re going to try to push it,” he said. “It’s an important issue. It’s on the minds of a lot of people, and we’re going to continue moving forward on it just as we did on Senate Bill 4 and hope we have the same result.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the legislation “needs to have a serious discussion” and he hopes to see it move through the regular committee process rather than expedited through procedural motions. He expressed concerns that the legislation would imperil $5.6 million in federal Title X funding, which includes money for cervical cancer screenings and contraceptives for women earning less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Wise tried to alleviate concerns on those funds in committee.

SB 7 has been assigned to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

“We don’t want public funds spent on abortions,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “That’s clear, but there are other issues involved in that bill. That bill needs to have a very, very, probably serious look at. It doesn’t need to be sped through.”

“There are unintended consequences in that bill that I don’t think anybody on that floor wants, so it needs to have a full, fair hearing,” he said.

Hoover said Stumbo’s concerns are unfounded based on conversations he’s had with Wise and Legislative Research Commission staff.

“The federal dollars through Medicaid are exempt from this,” he said. “We’re talking about state dollars only, so that’s why we want to continue to work and move it forward.”

According to information previously obtained from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the state has not contracted with Planned Parenthood, and the organization had received about $331,300 in Title X family planning money through local health departments.

Hoover said other bills of importance have received second readings before committee meetings so that the House could vote on them soon after passing committee scrutiny.

“I think it’s important enough and most members and even several members of the Democratic caucus think it’s important enough to give it its second reading now, send it back to committee, and then we’ll see what they do with it,” he said, adding that he hoped to see SB 7 on the agenda of the next House Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting. “If they don’t do something, we’ll look at our options on trying to bring it to the floor for a vote.”

Senate President Robert Stivers feels that the changing political makeup of the House is the key reason for bills like SB 4 and SB 7 to be received favorably in both chambers.

“Those have moved faster than expected, it’s the reality of the changing political dynamics in the House,” Stivers said. “I think there were some procedural maneuvers in the House to bring Senate Bill 7 to the floor”.

Wise feels that the fact that Senate Bill 4 has already passed both chambers and has been signed by Gov. Matt Bevin will help his legislation.

“I think there’s a lot of momentum right now and I think what you’re seeing is a lot of members wanting to take votes on the bill that have been waiting for pro-life legislation to get through,” Wise said.

Wise also noted that over half of the Democrats in the Senate chamber supported SB 7, and of the one who didn’t, only one, Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, spoke against the legislation, saying that Planned Parenthood serves a profound public purpose in this country and in this state, providing cancer screening for women — a service badly needed in a state that routinely leads the nation in cancer rates.

Wise credits the lack of comments to the fact that Gov. Matt Bevin issued a cease-and-desist letter to a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Louisville because information surfaced that the clinic was performing abortions saying they “are openly and knowingly operating an unlicensed abortion facility in clear violation of the law.”

Officials at the Planned Parenthood clinic, which opened last month, said that they had applied for an abortion facility license, and began services under the guidance of the Kentucky Office of the Inspector General.

“Once we came about out of Louisville, with the Planned Parenthood Clinic there, I think that has really spurred a lot of members,” Wise said. “I think that’s why you saw, even in our chamber, not a single Democrat, other than Sen. Thomas explained his no vote.”

Wise is also sponsoring Senate Bill 25, which would make selling fetal tissue resulting from an abortion a felony in the state.

Wise admits that there are a lot of other issues facing the General Assembly in addition to pro-life legislation, but he would be pleased if SB 7 becomes the next pro-life bill to become law.

By Pure Politics reporters Don Weber and Kevin Wheatley.


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