NASHVILLE - The Legislature's Republican leaders say they were advised that Sen. Stacey Campfield's effort to defund Planned Parenthood in the state budget bill was unconstitutional and they will try to accomplish the same objective with separate legislation next year.
"The confusion surrounding the language in the budget regarding Planned Parenthood has been unfortunate," said Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell in a joint statement last week.
Left unsolved, however, is the mystery of how the House and Senate approved a budget bill containing Knoxville Republican Campfield's amendment to block state funding to Planned Parenthood and, at the same time, included an amendment that apparently negated it.
"Everybody's a virgin, but somehow we got pregnant," said Campfield.
Campfield says he spotted the negating provision in a draft of the $30.8 billion budget and was told it would be removed by senators and staff.
It appears, though, that the provision was merely moved about 30 pages down in the legislation along with other miscellaneous provisions.
Harwell in an interview tossed the issue to the House and Senate Finance Committee chairmen, Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.
Sargent said he considered it a Senate issue.
"I knew about it. I told the Senate to handle their senator, handle it the way they wanted to do it," Sargent said. "It was a Senate decision."
McNally said he recalls the matter coming up in House-Senate budget discussions. He believes someone on the House side negated the Campfield amendment, which was approved in the Senate health and finance committees.
"The best I can figure out - I could be wrong - I think it was added at some point either in House Finance or after that [by House members]," McNally said.
A spokesman for Ramsey said the Senate speaker was not available for comment beyond what was in the joint statement with Harwell.
The statement notes that the Office of Legal Services warned House and Senate leaders that the state constitution doesn't allow general law to be amended through the appropriations bill.
Such an action "would have put the entire budget document in jeopardy," the statement says.
Campfield said his amendment was drafted carefully not to change state law and avoided the legal problem, thanks to lengthy research and discussion of the language.
He also noted that deeming one part of the budget unconstitutional would not jeopardize the entire budget because of a "severability clause," which declares if one part if deemed invalid by a court, all other provisions shall remain intact.
The state Department of Health has contracts worth about $1.1 million with Planned Parenthood in Memphis and Nashville.
The Campfield amendment states: "Title X family planning funds appropriated to the department of health shall be used fully in Title X programs operated by state, county or municipal health agencies and staffed by employees of such agencies and no Title X family planning funds shall be paid to third-party providers or private organizations or entities."
Campfield said he was misled into believing the language had been accepted and enacted and is "disheartened" by the situation.
He urged Gov. Bill Haslam to delete the amendment that apparently negated Campfield's amendment.
Tennessee Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization, has launched a campaign on its website calling on members to contact Haslam urging him "to use every legal tool available to end funding of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee, including instructing his Commissioner of Health, Susan Cooper, to comply with clear legislative intent of Section 78."
But the Republican leaders appear ready to leave things intact for one more year and pass a separate bill next year to defund Planned Parenthood. Given the solid Republican majority in the Legislature, Harwell said passage is "a done deal."
"Our majority in the General Assembly clearly meant to defund them," the joint statement says. "We are currently working with pro-life activists to resolve this issue with legislation and we will put it to rest immediately upon the legislature's return in January."
Tom Humphrey may be reached at 615-242-7782 or email@example.com.