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Controversial abortion language added to state budget bill

Ohio’s 2-year state budget must be approved by June 30.

A controversial abortion regulation was one of several final additions made to the bill containing Ohio’s two-year budget during late night deliberations at the Statehouse on Tuesday.

The provision requires physicians providing abortions to first try to detect a heartbeat through an external ultrasound and the probability of bringing the fetus to term. A panel of lawmakers working on final changes to the bill approved the Republican-sponsored amendment along party lines, 4-2.

Other GOP-sponsored amendments accepted into the bill included:

* Revisions to the Senate-passed public school funding formula

* $1 million for rape crisis centers;

* A study on facial recognition software for casinos and the tax package announced last week.

Lawmakers will send the bill for final floor votes Thursday, just in time for Gov. John Kasich to review the bill, veto parts and sign off on the plan before the June 30 deadline.

The bill that was introduced as Kasich’s Jobs Budget 2.0 in February has since changed multiple times, with the House and Senate disagreeing on whose plan is best. A bipartisan panel of three lawmakers from each chamber was tasked with a compromise plan, which was released late Tuesday afternoon.

State lawmakers worked late into the night, hammering out the differences between all the different versions of the bill containing the state’s budget. Tuesday’s meeting was also legislators’ last chance to change the bill without the threat of missing Sunday’s deadline.

Lawmakers did not restore language to expand Medicaid, the state- and federally-funded health insurance program for poor and disabled Ohioans. The committee’s chairman Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, was optimistic legislators could come together on reforms to the program but not this summer.

The new abortion language defines an “unborn human individual” as “an individual organism of the species Homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth.” Physicians who fail to detect a fetal heartbeat face six months in jail on first offense and up to 18 months in prison on subsequent offenses.

Rep. Mike Foley, D-Cleveland, warned fellow lawmakers they were “wading into culture wars.”

“It’s not something we should be doing in the budget bill and it’s also not right,” Foley said.

Lawmakers retained previous language to divert funding from family-planning only clinics such as Planned Parenthood to public health care centers, fund non-medical crisis pregnancy centers and prohibit public hospitals from making required transfer agreements with clinics that provide abortions.

Amstutz said provisions shifting funding to public health care centers would expand care for women.

The tax plan unveiled last week — a mix of cuts and increases yielding a net $2.6 billion tax cut over three years — was added to the bill with a few changes. Lawmakers adjusted the tax credit for the Commercial Activity Tax, a low rate applied to businesses’ gross receipts. The tax would collect varying minimum tax amounts for receipts between $1 million and $4 million, so businesses with higher gross receipts pay more.

The revised plan restores the $20 personal tax credit and tax exemption for Ohioans earning less than $10,000, in addition to keeping the proposed earned income tax credit.

In the education formula, the conference committee shifted some money from support for literacy in kindergarten through third grade to economically disadvantaged students. The committee scrapped the Senate’s move to lower the amount student performance is factored into teacher evaluations, but added language exempting students who are absent more than 45 days.

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