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Differences in Human Services Bills Focuses on Abortion Provision
By Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio News
April 25, 2001

Along partisan lines, a House committee approved a wide-ranging $6.3 billion health and human services funding bill. The bill focuses on long-term care and mental health initiatives. Democrats say it neglects children's health, teen pregnancy prevention and welfare recipients. It also includes an abortion provision that Gov. Ventura has threatened to veto. The Senate version spends more on long-term care and children's health insurance, but does not include abortion restrictions.

BOTH THE HOUSE AND SENATE have produced health and human services funding bills more than 600 pages long. Each spends more than $6 billion, and each funds nursing homes, services for people with disabilities and welfare. But the differences are vast.

The House bill includes $135 million in new spending; the Senate spends $340 million in new money. The governor's budget is somewhere in the middle - around $200 million.

The chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, Moorhead Republican Kevin Goodno, says the Senate wants to spend millions on expanded health coverage.

"The Senate has spent a lot of money ... chasing a fantasy about trying to insure every child. I think they're taking a shotgun approach when they should take a more targeted approach," Goodno says.

The Senate bill also goes much further than the House in extending the 60-month time limit for Minnesotans on welfare. The House bill would extend benefits for people who are ill or face severe barriers to unemployment. The Senate would stop the time-limit clock for people who are following the welfare-to-work requirements.

Goodno says the Senate wants to let everyone go beyond the 60-month limit. But Minneapolis DFLer Linda Berglin, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division, says the House doesn't address many of the barriers faced by people bumping up against the deadline.

"People are playing by the rules that we set out for them, and we need to make sure that they're not getting caught in a situation where their family's going to be destabilized," Berglin says.

In addition to health insurance and welfare, the two bills have another difference that is potentially the most explosive. The House version contains the "women's right to know" bill, which would require women to receive certain information 24 hours before getting an abortion.

Gov. Ventura has threatened to veto any bill, even a billion-dollar funding bill that includes abortion restrictions, and Ventura vetoed the very same informed consent bill last year.

Rep. Goodno says he's not worried. "He also said at one point that he was going to sign a bill that had that in it or at least implied that a year ago, and then he ended up vetoing it, so I think we're open to try to work with him and see if we can change his mind," he said.

Goodno's committee also added a provision that would prevent state family-planning money from going to organizations that provide abortions, such as Planned Parenthood. Tim Stanley, executive director of Minnesota NARAL - the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League - says it would essentially restrict clinics to telling women about abstinence and natural family planning.

"It's devastating. It's devastating to put any kind of a limit on the terms and the negotiations that can go on between a patient and their health-care provider," according to Stanley.

Republicans on the committee say the provision doesn't restrict abortions, but merely says that taxpayer money shouldn't go to organizations that refer women to abortion services.

The two sweeping funding bills also contain another significant difference. The House bill does not include money from the state's tobacco settlement that was earmarked for anti-smoking efforts by the 1999 Legislature.

DFLers tried unsuccessfully to restore the funding, which is included in the House higher-education bill for the University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center. While the two sides seem far apart in dollars and policy, Sen. Berglin says she's confident lawmakers can come up with a compromise both bodies can live with - they've always been able to do so in the past.