Senators send $8.8 billion budget package to Ricketts

LINCOLN — A budget bill with controversial language that cuts off federal family planning funds to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is headed to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ desk.

Nebraska lawmakers gave final round approval Tuesday to a main budget bill, Legislative Bill 944, and two other bills that are part of the $8.8 billion budget package.

Thirty-eight senators voted to pass LB 944. The six senators who voted no are State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha.

Senators spent about an hour Tuesday morning rehashing the debate on restrictions to federal family planning dollars known as Title X. The bill got hung up twice on second round of debate when senators could not agree on changes to the language proposed by Ricketts.

Last week, senators advanced the bill to final reading after a handful of senators hammered out a compromise.

Ricketts on Monday said he liked the compromise Title X language, but he declined to comment on the budget itself, saying he would review it when it reaches his desk and make any adjustments necessary in spending levels. The governor can use his line-item veto to reduce spending amounts in legislative bills.

Planned Parenthood, in response, said Tuesday that the fight was not over and that the health care facility’s doors would remain open.

“Whether the governor likes it or not, Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of family planning care,” said Meg Mikolajczyk, associate general counsel and senior public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “Women know us, women trust us, and there is no substitute for the expert level of care we provide. There is no legitimate reason that our 8,000 patients should have to try to go somewhere else, especially when there really isn’t anywhere else for them to go.”

There are other Title X providers in the state, and under the compromise restrictions, most of Nebraska’s 13 Title X agencies likely will be able to continue getting federal family planning dollars to serve low-income, uninsured women and men.

Nebraska got $1.7 million worth of Title X funds in 2017.