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Abortion aborts budget debate

ST. PAUL - Deep divisions over abortions delayed part of the Minnesota Senate's budget.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party senators could not produce enough votes to turn back a proposal to ban all state-funded abortions Monday night, so the party's leaders pulled the health and human services budget provisions until they can round up enough votes to pass it. Many rural Democrats appear ready to join a majority of Republicans and vote against abortions.

Senators passed other parts of the proposed budget 64-3, setting up a House-Senate conference committee to reach a compromise between vastly differing bills the two bodies passed.

The Senate budget plan, if the health and human services portion eventually passes, would add $204 million to the existing budget, while the House approved $88 million. Either bill is small potatoes compared to the $30.1 billion, two-year budget lawmakers approved last year.

Both chambers put a priority on housing sex offenders and other dangerous criminals in state hospitals, a $70 million expense. However, state hospital funding is in the health and human services portion of the Senate proposal, which remains undone.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the health and human services budget may return to the Senate Wednesday. New stadiums for the University of Minnesota, Twins and Vikings will be in front of senators today.

Republicans strongly criticized Democrats for not wanting to vote on abortion-related amendments.

"This has been a sham from the very beginning," Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, said. "It is the worst management style I have ever seen."

"What are we afraid of?" Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, added. "Why are you causing all of this" Can't you just take votes around here?"

Senate Democrats have struggled for five days over abortion amendments they know will be offered when the health and human services debate is held.

Besides banning all state-funded abortions, the expected amendments would track judges who let underage girls receive abortions without parental notification. Amendment opponents say publicly naming judges who allow the procedures would amount to an election campaign against them. Judges in Minnesota are elected by the public.

The House passed the anti-abortion provision 81-50.

The DFL Party issued a statement Monday saying the amendment would put judges' safety at risk.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.