Although the State House has been a ghost town as of late, things are set to heat up today as the state Senate gears up to debate its annual state budget. Among the list of more than 400 amendmentsto the annual budget, two are making the most news: expanded abortion access and funding to prevent service cuts to the MBTA. Mike Deehan, GBH News State House reporter, joined host Joe Mathieu on Morning Edition to discuss what to expect as lawmakers debate the $46 billion budget, which has been delayed since the onset of the coronavirus in the spring.
The House has already added abortion access to the budget bill, which, if passed, would allow women to obtain an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of “fatal fetal anomalies.” Current state law allows abortions after 24 weeks only to preserve the life or health of the mother. The expanded policy would also lower the age at which an abortion could be obtained without the permission of a parent, from 18 to 16 years of age.
Now, it’s the Senate’s turn to decide whether to add that policy to the bill, rather than attempt to pass the legislation separately. “The question here is whether or not they [the Senate] want to introduce more policy, non-budgetary items into the budget plan,” Deehan said.
“If you remember, this abortion item came out of nowhere,” Deehan said about the House’s vote on expanded abortion access, announced last week. “This was kind of under the cover of night.”
The reason the Senate may want to attach expanded abortion access to the budget is that it would be easier to pass, says Deehan. If the policy were to be introduced on its own, lawmakers would likely face a high-profile battle around a controversial topic. Just last week, more than 300 pastors sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker asking him to veto the measure if it reaches his desk. “The legislature has such a limited capacity to do anything complicated, it makes sense for them to use vehicles like this,” Deehan said.
"It'll be easier [for Democrats] to override it, too, if it's part of the budget process, and if the governor decides he doesn't like this abortion language."
The other amendment making a splash is the proposal to increase the state MBTA budget. “This would essentially mean a big bailout from the state to the MBTA so they can bridge their budget gap, and not make these service cuts that they’ve been talking about to the commuter rail — weekend service, to the ferries, things like that,” Deehan said about the proposal, which would dip into the state’s “rainy day funds.”
The new state budget is typically approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1; however, the onset of the coronavirus in the spring spring delayed those deliberations until now.