JUNEAU (AP) -- 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.'' Such measures require only a majority of those present to pass, instead of the 21 votes needed for bills.
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 yet agreed on whether to accept the abortion language in the Senate budget. The language is not in the House budget.
Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, urged his colleagues to vote for the resolution rejecting the abortion language. Regardless of their views on abortion, he said, the language violates the Constitution's prohibition against making substantive law through budget bills.
Rep. John Davies, D-Fairbanks, agreed.
''To tie it to the budget process is totally inappropriate,'' Davies said.
But Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, 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, R-Fairbanks, said he believes the courts are treading on the Legislature's right to appropriate funds with such decisions.
Joining Democrats in supporting the ''sense of the House'' were nine Republicans -- Reps. Con Bunde, Andrew Halcro, Lesil McGuire, Lisa Murkowski and Norm Rokeberg of Anchorage; Drew Scalzi of Homer; Gary Stevens of Kodiak; Jim Whitaker of Fairbanks; and Bill Hudson of Juneau. Reps. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, and Scott Ogan, R-Palmer, were absent.
House Finance Committee Co-chairman Bill Williams, who sits on the budget conference committee, said the vote won't affect the panel's negotiations.
''We're trying to deal with that issue and we're going to deal with it,'' said Williams, R-Saxman. ''I don't know how. We're talking as we go.''
The conference committee agreed on a number of items in the Health and Social Services budget Thursday, but the abortion language did not come up.
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