Budget bill mix-up in Nashville remains unresolved

On June 11, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

$1.1M in Planned Parenthood funding apparently cut off

By Tom Humphrey, Knoxville News Sentinel
June 11, 2011

NASHVILLE – Having apparently accomplished their goal of shutting off about $1.1 million in funding to Planned Parenthood, Tennessee’s Republican leaders say they’re ready to abandon efforts to identify or publicize those responsible for a mystery amendment that had threatened to thwart their wishes.

“If you think you passed something and something else passed instead, you ought to dig in and find out why,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “But it is not something I’m spending a lot of time trying to figure out.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he has spent time trying to figure out what happened when the state budget bill was amended – without his knowledge or the knowledge of many other legislative leaders – to negate a provision inserted at the urging of Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, to “defund” Planned Parenthood.

“I really don’t know 100 percent what happened. I just have it in my mind what happened, and I’m going to try to get to the bottom of what happened,” Ramsey said.

But he added “that’s the stuff you work on behind the scenes” to ensure it does not happen again.

Asked if that means the results of his inquiry into what occurred and who was responsible will never be made public, Ramsey replied, “That’s a possibility.”

“It is sometimes a case of he-said, she-said kind of stuff,” Ramsey said. “I’m not into that at all. I’m a person who tries to find solutions.”

Campfield, too, said he is now ready to let bygones be bygones on the mystery amendment, which the senator earlier said left him “flabbergasted” and “disheartened.”

“We had to kiss a lot of ugly girls at the prom, but we took the pretty one home,” said Campfield. “As long as we got what I was looking for, which was defunding Planned Parenthood, I’m willing to let it drop.”

Since the mystery amendment was discovered by Campfield, the state’s Republican leaders, including Haslam, Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, have moved to block any funding going to Planned Parenthood from the state budget that begins on July 1 and to lay plans for a more permanent ban on such funding in future years.

Currently, the state contracts with Planned Parenthood to provide women’s health services, including birth control, to low-income residents of Davidson and Shelby counties, using federal funds. In other counties, including Knox, the funding goes to county health departments that provide the services.

None of the money goes for abortions, but Tennessee Right to Life contends the money indirectly benefits Planned Parenthood abortion programs.

At the urging of Haslam, state Health Commissioner Susan Cooper earlier this month wrote officials of the Davidson and Shelby health departments asking that they find a means of taking the money and providing the services themselves rather than having the state contract with Planned Parenthood.

On Friday, Metro Nashville Public Health Director William Paul replied by letter to Cooper that his department could use the $335,000 itself. Shelby County Health Director Yvonne Madlock asked for another week to explore the possibilities, though Ramsey declared in a news release that Shelby County now “is also expected to begin the process of transitioning away from its Planned Parenthood contract.”

Just more than $750,000 is involved in the Shelby County contract. Haslam and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said that if Shelby County cannot provide the services itself with the money, there may be “alternative providers” – groups other than Planned Parenthood – that can do so.

“We are at long last moving towards the final stages of the Planned Parenthood shell game,” said Ramsey in his news release, which hailed Haslam “for working to completely turn off the spigot of taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood … the largest abortion provider in the country.”

Haslam, Harwell and Ramsey say they will work together next year to enact separate legislation to ensure Planned Parenthood receives no funding. Harwell said the bill is already drafted.

She and Ramsey say there is some doubt about whether Campfield’s amendment to the budget bill – even without the mystery amendment that undid his effort – would have been legally effective to defund Planned Parenthood. A separate bill, as planned for next year, will put the defunding effort on more solid legal footing.

At one point, Campfield and anti-abortion activists had urged Haslam to use his line-item veto authority to strike the mystery amendment from the state budget bill before signing it. But the governor said that, after consulting with legal advisers, he decided that was not a valid option.

“Our main priority is no lapse in services, and we’re working to identify potential alternative providers,” said Haslam.

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