After a second failed attempt to advance the state's mainline budget bill, senators say they will work over the weekend on a compromise. 

On Friday, after two more hours of debate on a provision put into the budget bill (LB944) by Gov. Pete Ricketts, senators fell two votes short of the 33 needed to force a vote on the $8.8 billion budget and move it to final reading.

The vote was 31-7, with 10 senators present not voting. The motion collected one more vote than it got Wednesday.

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln, a member of the Appropriations Committee, held her vote earlier in the week but voted yes on the cloture motion Friday. 

"I would still like to see a compromise on protecting health care services," she said. "But my vote reflects how incredibly important I think the appropriations bill is. We're funding essential needs in child welfare, homestead exemption, developmental disability funds and a lot of other vital services."

Seventeen senators stood their ground on insisting the language in the provision at least be modified before they would move it on.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln had introduced an amendment to take out the Ricketts provision that would ensure providers of family planning and women's and men's preventative health services receive the federal funding only if they show abortion-related services are physically and financially separated. No vote was taken on the amendment. 

Sens. Anna Wishart of Lincoln and Sara Howard of Omaha said Friday afternoon they will meet Monday with senators on both sides of the issue -- all day if needed -- until agreements are made that can move the bill to final reading. 

"A compromise takes time," Wishart said. "And being able to do that within 24 hours was just not within our abilities in terms of having a quality solution on the table." 

Regardless of the legal arguments that have been stated on both sides, Wishart said, Title X providers have concerns about the way the language is written and its effect on their ability to provide family planning and health services funded by the federal program. 

"We're putting those clinics in a really tough situation," she said. 

The bulk of 28,000 Title X patients are served by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and federally qualified health centers in the state, Howard said.

One of the sticking points is physical separation of health services and abortion services at Planned Parenthood. Howard said the federal regulation requires physical separation but allows for sharing of a waiting room or staff, as long as that separation is accounted for in spending Title X dollars. 

Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, who has led much of the support for the Ricketts provision, said senators on both sides of the issue want Title X funds to remain available in Nebraska.

But without the clarification in the provision, he said, the Title X funds in Nebraska are in danger because of the way the Trump administration is interpreting the federal regulation and the Weldon Amendment. That federal amendment is said to be designed, in part, to accommodate those with moral or religious objections to providing abortion services and referrals.

Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk took to the microphone immediately after the failed cloture vote to chastise senators. He thought he had the 33 votes needed to break the impasse and advance the bill, but he said a couple of senators went back on their word that they would vote for the cloture motion. 

"This has to be resolved," he said. "We need to grow up. We need to do our jobs. Quit isolating ourselves and start working together."

He said he expects some type of compromise next week to allow the bill to move to final reading. 

During debate, Pansing Brooks criticized Ricketts for reaching into the Legislature, a separate branch of government, to impose his will on the Title X issue. 

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus called Ricketts' move to force the Title X provision in the budget "a terrible power grab." 

Ricketts fired back after the vote via email, saying that by filibustering the mainline budget, some state senators are putting vital state services for children at risk.

"Because of an influx of children into our child welfare system, funding will run out in May," he said. "It is absolutely critical that the Legislature move the budget forward, which contains new child welfare funding, and get it to my desk. With only days left in the session, the clock is ticking.”

Friday was Day 48 of the 60-day session, and legislative rules call for Appropriations bills to be passed no later than the 50th day. Since 1984, senators have missed that deadline eight times.  

Stinner said the longer the Legislature goes without passing the budget, the more people get emboldened in their positions, and bad things happen, he said. 

"The longer you delay, the more suspense, the more tension, the more drama," he said. 

A lot is in play, he said. State agencies are left with uncertainties, including $83 million in deficit requests, funding adjustments and reimbursements for developmental disabilities, child welfare. 

"My fears are that we end up at the end of the session and then the governor will dictate what we look at in a special session," he said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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