SACRAMENTO — On the eve of a possible U.S. Supreme Court decision that may throw the abortion issue back to the states, emotional debate in the California Legislature stalled a crucial spending bill Wednesday because it contained a provision to pay for abortions for poor women.
The failure of the $35l-million spending measure to win approval in the Assembly immediately jeopardized the paychecks of 9,960 state employees who work for agencies that would have received emergency funding under the bill.
"I don't know what's going to happen now," said an exhausted Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), the bill's author and chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. "At some point I guess people will do something."
The measure could be reconsidered today.
The bill that ignited the debate in the Legislature provided extra money, including $16.2 million to pay for abortions for Medi-Cal patients, to state agencies that had run short of finances before the end of the state fiscal year Friday.
It won approval in the Senate on a 32-1 vote after an attempt by anti-abortion lawmakers to delete the abortion money was defeated on a 19-17 vote. The anti-abortion senators later managed to cut $571,856 out of the bill that would have satisfied a court order requiring the state to pay the fees of lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Youth Law who won a 1987 judicial decision directing the state to fund Medi-Cal abortions.
In the Assembly, however, the measure fell 10 votes short of the 54 needed for passage when most lawmakers opposing abortion voted against it.
"We simply can't provide the dollars for destroying literally thousands of pre-born baby boys and girls," said Assemblyman Phillip Wyman (R-Tehachapi). Republican Leader Ross Johnson of La Habra said anti-abortion lawmakers felt the spending bill had made them "prisoners of conscience" because they didn't want to do anything to delay paychecks for state employees yet they could not "in good conscience vote for this bill in the form that it is sent to us."
Vasconcellos, who said he personally opposes abortions, urged his colleagues to approve the measure and keep the state employees from becoming victims of a legislative stalemate.
Meanwhile, Edd Fong, a spokesman for state Controller Gray Davis, said the spending bill would affect the paychecks of state employees working for the Franchise Tax Board, the Department of Forestry, the Department of Industrial Relations and the Fair Political Practices Commission.
He said his office has already written checks and is prepared to deliver them as soon as the Legislature approves the spending bill. But if the Legislature does not act soon, he said, the state workers may not get them by Friday, their regular payday. He said workers in rural areas outside of Sacramento may already face delays.