The state House sent a message Thursday that it will not accept language in the Senate version of the budget that calls for killing the Health and Social Services Department if the courts force the state to fund abortions.
Representatives voted 20-18 for the nonbinding resolution, called a "sense of the House."
A conference committee made up of House and Senate Finance Committee members is negotiating differences between the House and Senate versions of the state operating budget for the next fiscal year. The committee has not decided whether to accept the abortion language in the Senate budget. The language is not in the House budget.
Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, urged his colleagues to vote for the resolution rejecting the abortion language. Regardless of their views on abortion, he said, the language violates the Alaska Constitution's prohibition against making substantive law through budget bills.
But Rep. John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, urged members not to vote for the measure, arguing the Senate's strategy was appropriate.
"It is a separation-of-powers issue," Coghill said.
Sen. Pete Kelly has said the Senate Finance Committee inserted the language out of frustration with court rulings that have forced the state to provide abortions to poor women despite efforts by the Legislature to bar the use of state funds for the procedure.
Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said he believes the courts with such decisions are treading on the Legislature's right to appropriate funds.
Joining Democrats in supporting the "sense of the House" were nine Republicans - Rep. Bill Hudson of Juneau; Con Bunde, Andrew Halcro, Lesil McGuire, Lisa Murkowski and Norm Rokeberg of Anchorage; Drew Scalzi of Homer; Gary Stevens of Kodiak; and Jim Whitaker of Fairbanks. Albert Kookesh, an Angoon Democrat, and Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican, were absent.
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