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Minnesota Senate leader expects abortion funding bill to go to Dayton

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka Forum News Service file photo

ST. PAUL—A bill aimed at curtailing state funding for abortions in Minnesota is advancing rapidly in the Minnesota Senate, but may be stalled while lawmakers work out the larger question of how to fund state government as a whole.

Senate File 702 would prohibit the state Department of Human Services from funding abortion services. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, submitted the bill Feb. 6 and the measure has received approval from two Senate committees.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said in an interview while he expected the bill to receive a floor vote and eventually make it to the desk of Gov. Mark Dayton, the Senate leadership had not yet set a date to vote on it. Gazelka said he considered crafting a new budget for the state to be a higher priority.

However, Gazelka supports the bill. Some people who wouldn't call themselves opponents of abortion still oppose the state funding abortions, he said.

"So this is kind of a meeting of those two groups," Gazelka said. "Obviously if we're not funding abortions, there's going to be less abortions, and to me, that's a win."

Asked what state funding streams went to abortion, Gazelka said he did not know offhand. He pointed out he was not the chief author of the bill and thus did not have a handle on the details. Those legislators who are chief authors of bills typically are more familiar with the details and ramifications than those legislators who merely co-author, or sponsor, the bills as a gesture of support.

A fiscal note, or analysis of the impact of a particular bill as compiled by employees of the particular agency it governs, gave a summary of the current situation as it pertains to state-funded abortions in Minnesota.

The federal Hyde Amendment prohibits the Medicaid program from funding abortions except under three circumstances: rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. At one time, Minnesota had its own law that paralleled the Hyde Amendment's rules. However, that law was struck down by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1995 as an invasion of privacy that violated the state constitution.

The Medical Assistance program—the state version of Medicaid—as well as MinnesotaCare can fund "medically necessary" abortions above and beyond the boundaries of the Hyde Amendment, a DHS statement said.

Medical Assistance paid for 4,157 abortions during Fiscal Year 2015 that Medicaid couldn't cover, totaling $1.02 million in reimbursed costs, the fiscal note said.

But DHS considers S.F. 702 to have no fiscal impact, because it anticipates the bill being struck down by the courts if it makes it into law.

"Given the 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision, it is likely but not certain that the state would be enjoined by the courts from implementing the language in this proposal," DHS said in the fiscal note.

The DHS went on to say the bill would risk litigation if passed into law, but since it was difficult to anticipate what kind of litigation that might be, DHS did not include litigation costs in its fiscal note estimate.

Senate File 702 has a provision that prepares for part of the bill possibly being found unconstitutional by the courts. A "severability clause" ensures that if one part of the bill is found to be unconstitutional, the rest of the bill is still effective.

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, sponsors the companion bill to S.F. 702 in House of Representatives, H.F. 809.

"I have a deep appreciation and respect for life," Kresha said in response to an emailed request for comment. "I will continue to fight for an end to abortions."

Other sponsors of H.F. 809 include Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, and Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt.

A second anti-abortion bill, S.F. 704, would require abortion facilities to get a license from the state. It allows for surprise inspections, and requires them to pay a $3,712 fee to get the license. The bill also contains a severability clause in case the courts find part of it unconstitutional.

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, sponsors S.F. 702 and S.F. 704. She did not immediately return requests for comment Friday.

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