Beck and Allen join Dems to pass $7.5M family planning bill

TRENTON – Unlike the last times state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), of Teaneck, put forth her request to restore $7.4 million in family planning and women’s health funding, she wasn’t able to convince a bloc of Republican state senators to join her. But two GOP women did side with Weinberg and the Democrats: state Sens. Jennifer Beck (R-12), of Red Bank, and Diane Allen (R-7), of Edgewater Park.

The bill could be heading for another veto, but it headed for passage today, 26-13, with lawmakers – other than Beck and Allen – adhering to party lines.

The bill, S2899, restores $7.4 million in funding for Family Planning Services grants through the Department of Health and Senior Services, which had been eliminated from the FY11 budget. According to Weinberg’s bill, the non-funding resulted in “both the closing of facilities that provide family planning services and a reduction in the availability of such services.” Six of 58 family planning clinics across the state have closed since the funding was cut back drastically from $7 million to $400,000 last year.

Weinberg’s previous bill did the same thing as S2899, although seven GOP legislators were part of the funding restoration chorus.

Democrats needed four of the seven GOPers to back the override attempt, but nearly all of the Republicans backed out when a letter from the state Treasurer said available money wasn’t really available. Beck was the only Republican vote non-committal on the veto override, because she was on a trip to China at the time.

Although some Democrats have speculated that Christie vetoed the bill for ideological reasons, it specifically stated that the funding cannot be used for abortion procedures, as does this bill. Christie reiterated last week that the only overriding factor was cost. Weinberg said he “strong-armed” the GOP lawmakers into backing away from the bill.

Just submitted over the weekend, this bill follows news of revenue windfalls estimated to bring in an additional $400 million to $900 million above projections for FY12. It was not cleared in committee, contrary to traditional procedure, and has yet to move forward in the lower chamber.

Weinberg, or rather “Loretta from Teaneck,” called into Christie’s radio appearance on N.J. 101.5’s Ask the Governor last week, petitioning Christie to restore the monies given the bright revenue outlook.

He told her he would do what is in the best interest of the state, not sounding like a man reconsidering his previous stance. “I don’t think it’s been in the best interest of the state for Sen. Weinberg to be around the state mischaracterizing women’s access to health care,” he said. “This has become a political issue for Sen. Weinberg.”

Weinberg said today, “This is important to all of us. This is important to all of our mothers, our sisters, our granddaughters.”

Beck said, “Our health centers cover many women and men who are uninsured…Therefore they provide accessibilty for those (who could not otherwise) get service.” 

State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25), of Boonton, said the Democrats had the opportunity last year to fight for the funding, but chose instead to fight for other projects, like $7 million for battleships and museums.

Allen said, “Last year when the budget was being considered, we were in tough financial shape…(Now) it seems to me we need to be putting money into theses clinics and into these centers.”

State Sen. Richard Codey (D-27), of Roseland, “We’re not talking about stock broker’s wives…We’re talking about the poorest of the poor.”

State Sen. Mike Dougherty (R-23), of Washington Twp., said the bill was “somewhat of a surrogate issue for the abortion issue.” He expressed serious concerns about family planning centers, like Planned Parethood facilities which have come under intense scrutiny of late, and objected to the bill.

Bucco added, “We are going down a slippery slope when we bypass the process of listening to a bill in committee.”

In addition to the funding restoration, the bill requires the Department of Human Services to request a federal amendment that would expand Medicaid coverage for family planning services to persons with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

According to the bill, the expansion of Medicaid family planning services would generate a 90 percent federal reimbursement.

Christie’s administration has maintained that the services provided by the women’s health centers are still available at federal and county facilities, even some hospitals.

Democrats said these facilities are already struggling to provide such services. Weinberg said a woman needing prenatal care from a federally-qualified health center would have to wait until the second trimester for an exam.

State Sen. Kip Bateman (R-16), of Branchburg, was not present for the session today.

Beck and Allen join Dems to pass $7.5M family planning bill