N.J. family-planning funding still vetoed

Posted: September 21, 2010

TRENTON - An effort by Democrats to restore $7.5 million in state funding to family-planning health centers came to a halt Monday after Senate Democrats failed to persuade any of their Republican colleagues to cross Gov. Christie on the issue.

The Senate voted 23-17, along party lines, to override Christie's veto of the funding restoration, but Democrats would have needed four Republican votes for the measure to succeed.

Christie's budget eliminated state funding to 58 family-planning health centers across the state, which last year provided services to more than 130,000 men and women, most of whom were underinsured.

The centers provide services including access to birth control, breast exams, pap smears, and prenatal care. A provision in the bill to restore the funding specifically prohibited the use of public dollars to fund abortions.

Democrats urged fellow Republicans, seven of whom previously voted to restore the funding, to follow their consciences instead of party lines.

"This is not an issue of being loyal to the governor," said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen), a sponsor of the bill. "This is an issue about women's health, about poor women, about underinsured women, about women's access to birth control."

Republican lawmakers said that while they supported women's health, they could not support spending money the state does not have.

Democrats said they had found $7.5 million in excess funds in a prescription program for state employees, but the Christie administration says that money is needed.

"I don't think we can continue to spend money that we don't have," said Sen. Diane Allen (R., Burlington). "Let's find actual funding, funding that really exists, and let's move forward with this as quickly as we can."

Sen. Jennifer Beck (R., Monmouth) suggested increasing legislators' contributions toward health care to pay for the funding restoration.

"It is critical to me and to many of us in this room that women do have access to care," Beck said. "I believe this is not a partisan issue, this is about the citizens of our state, but I don't find it responsible to try to spend money that doesn't exist, so I would ask for those of you that are here to agree that we join together in designating another source of funding."

Immediately after the vote, Democrats vowed to press on, announcing they had found $5 million in unspent funds from last year that could be redirected to the family-planning centers. They said the funds are in an account set aside to pay counties to house certain prisoners.

Democrats also said they wanted the state to apply for additional Medicaid coverage for family-planning services.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Democrats will continue the fight to restore the funding.

"We're disappointed with the outcome of today's veto override, but we're hopeful that the governor and Republican legislators can put aside partisan blinders and help Democrats quickly enact women's health-care funding, version 2.0, into law," Sweeney said.

"It's clear that Republican lawmakers who had previously stood up for good health-care policy over conservative political ideology were pressured by the governor to vote against our override attempt," said Weinberg, who was Gov. Jon S. Corzine's running mate in his failed bid for reelection.

"I'm certainly disappointed that more of my fellow lawmakers couldn't show the political courage to defy their governor and restore access to women's health-care and family-planning services in New Jersey. However, we don't plan to go away quietly, and will continue fighting for access to services for women and men who have nowhere else to turn."

Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or alu@phillynews.com.

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