Abortion-Related Issues Remain Part of Ohio Budget

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A state budget that revamps Republican Gov. John Kasich’s school funding proposal and restores his small business tax plan passed a GOP-led Ohio Senate panel on Wednesday, after Democratic attempts to boost money for school safety and local governments were sidelined.

The Senate Finance Committee passed the more than $61 billion, two-year spending plan on a party-line vote. A full Senate vote was expected Thursday on the budget, which begins July 1.

The Senate panel made a host of changes, including adding a provision to ban public hospitals from having agreements with abortion clinics to transfer patients.

Abortion rights advocates say the move will force many facilities to close, limiting access to abortions.

“If safe, legal clinics can no longer provide abortion care in Ohio, where will women turn?” Kellie Copeland, executive director of the NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a statement.

State health department regulations require all ambulatory surgical facilities in Ohio, including abortion providers, to have transfer agreements with hospitals that would take patients in case they experience medical complications.

State Sen. Joe Ueker, a Loveland Republican, offered the amendment because he said it tightens Ohio’s prohibition on using public money to support abortions. He said the agreements left open the chance for public hospitals to complete the procedure, should something go wrong at an abortion clinic.

“Someone has to stand up for the rights of the unborn,” he said.

Senators also kept a House-added provision to send Planned Parenthood to the back of the line for public family-planning money.

Supporters say other providers of women’s health care have sprung up around the state and the move would give those centers a chance at government funds. But critics, including Democrats, argue Planned Parenthood provides needed preventive health care to low-income women that would be jeopardized by the bill.

Underlying the debate is Planned Parenthood’s role as a provider of abortions, a procedure supporters of the bill oppose funding with public dollars.

Republicans tabled an amendment from Democratic Sen. Charleta Tavares that would have removed the family-planning and transfer agreement changes.

“We don’t need paternalistic, controlling government in our lives,” Tavares, of Columbus, told the committee.

Other Democratic proposals that failed to get traction would have delivered $96 million over two year period to local governments and sent schools $34 million each year for safety and security enhancements.

While the governor’s budget proposal called for an expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law, the Legislature has largely kept the idea separate from the budget bill.

State lawmakers continue to examine ways to change the federal-state program for the poor and disabled, which already provides health care for one of every five residents in the state.

Oelslager told reporters he expected the expansion debate to be kept out of budget negotiations between the House and Senate.

The Senate plan sends an additional $141.6 million in direct state aid to schools, compared with the funding formula the House passed in its version of the budget.

Senators also directed $100 million to the governor’s proposed Straight A fund, which will deliver grants to school districts for innovation and efficiency measures. Early childhood education also would get an additional $20 million over the budget period.

Taxes will be among the top issues that negotiators in the House and Senate will have to sort out, when they meet later this month to reconcile their budget differences.

The Senate version of the spending plan scraps the House’s income tax cut proposal, while giving tax relief to small businesses.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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