House amends budget to bar UW from spending federal or state funding for abortion services - Casper, WY Oil City News
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House amends budget to bar UW from spending federal or state funding for abortion services

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The proposed biennium budget for the University of Wyoming includes $446,658,208 in general fund appropriations from the state under House Bill 01.

Wyoming law prohibits the use of funds appropriated by the legislature from being used to pay for abortions except in cases of incest or sexual assault “if the assault is reported to a law enforcement agency within five (5) days after the assault or within five (5) days after the time the victim is capable of reporting the assault, or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the unborn child was carried to full term.”

An amendment to the proposed budget would prevent the university from receiving this funding if they were to expend any state or federal funds for the cost of elective abortions by students. The amendment similarly prohibits the university from providing group health insurance coverage for students which covers elective abortions if they are to receive funding from the state.

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The amendment was proposed by House District 57 Representative Chuck Gray, House District 49 Representative Garry Piiparinen and House District 52 Representative Bill Pownall.

“The certificate of coverage of the University of Wyoming health plan and an LSO memo explains that elective abortions are currently covered for students,” a press release sent out by Gray on Thursday states. “Meanwhile, taxpayer-funded abortion is currently banned in the faculty and staff plan with some exceptions.”

“This amendment aligns the student-health plan with current statute for faculty in that it bans coverage for elective abortion. Exceptions are identical to current state statute.”

The House adopted this amendment. They passed the general government appropriations bill on second reading during their Wednesday, Feb. 19 floor session. The House is expected to consider House Bill 01 on third reading on Friday.

There were a total of about 50 amendments to the proposed bill which the House considered on second reading.

The budget for the biennium is for the period between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2022.

According to the website Wyoming Sense, Governor Mark Gordon’s biennium budget requests total about $8.858 billion, including general fund, federal fund and other state fund appropriations.

House District 08 Representative Bob Nicholas serves as chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He introduced the budget process to his colleagues on Monday.

Nicholas said that severance tax revenues are “kind of a barometer” for the state’s budget outlook. He said that in 2013-2014, severance tax revenues stood at about $1.8 billion.

“Now they are below $1.2 billion,” Nicholas said. “Essentially, since that time…we’re about $600 million short just in terms of what our general coffers take in. It’s just been a big difference.”

He added that in 2010, the budget included about $4.2 billion in appropriations from the state’s general fund. The House is considering $2.97 billion in general fund appropriations under the bill.

The proposed bill also includes about $1.7 billion in federal funding appropriations as well as appropriations from accounts other than the general fund. Details are available in a fiscal note of the bill.

Nicholas explained that the Joint Appropriations Committee’s recommended general fund appropriations are less than the total requested by the governor.

“Our standard [general fund] budget is $2.74 billion,” Nicholas said.

He explained that Gordon’s proposed budget includes about $319 million in exception requests beyond the standard budget. Nicholas said that the Joint Appropriations Committee recommended reducing those exceptions by $119 million, bringing the proposed biennium appropriations in the general fund to the $2.97 billion figure.

Nicholas said that one major spot the JAC sought to keep the budget proposal low was in the area of information technology, calling IT and “exploding” expense for the state.

“Roughly $82 million [of the reduction from the governor’s recommendation] has to do with IT alone,” Nicholas said.

He said that the JAC’s recommendation is to fund IT for the first year of the biennium and hold off on funding the rest of the requests until the state explores whether there are options to keep IT costs down.

“We need to look at this and understand this better,” Nicholas said. “Will we save money, we don’t really know, but we want to evaluate it.”

He added that Gordon requested about $20.3 million for increases to state employee salaries.

“We didn’t want to jump on that bandwagon right away,” Nicholas said of the JAC.

He explained that the state is facing about $21 million in increased state employee health insurance costs.

“The health insurance pool underwater right now,” Nicholas said. “What we found is we have not been properly funding our health insurance. We have not made a recommendation to adopt [the governor’s request].”

He added that the JAC decided to not to leave $50 million on the table in anticipation of new costs from bills moving through the House and Senate this year.

Nicholas said there are a total of four biennium budget-related bill in the Legislature.

Those include a proposed bill which would appropriate $105 million for local government distributions over the biennium.

Another proposed bill deals with state funded capital construction, which includes $777,168 from the general fund.

Nicholas explained that House Bill 02 specifically deals with state funded studies or “general government reports.” He explained that there were 54 studies included in the 2018 budget session budget bill.

“We weeded out a whole bunch of them,” Nicholas said of the JAC’s proposal.

He said there are 16-17 studies which the JAC recommends the state fund this biennium.

NOTE: This story was updated with information from Rep. Gray’s press release which was sent out after this article was already published on Thursday.

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