The Florida Legislature for more than a decade earmarked funding in the state budget for “pregnancy support services.”
Now, lawmakers are poised to pass a bill (HB 41) that would put into law the longstanding initiative, which encourages women to carry pregnancies to term.
Senate sponsor Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, tells The News Service of Florida that putting the program into law will help ensure it continues, regardless of legislative leadership or who is in the governor’s office.
“It firmly establishes the program and that the state of Florida realizes there’s a great benefit in helping ladies with a pregnancy that may not be planned,” he says.
Codifying programs in law helps make them more permanent than approving them annually in budget fine print known as “proviso,” which is what has occurred over the last decade.
The program, through a network of private support centers, provides services to pregnant women at no charge, which may continue for 12 months after children are born. The Department of Health contracts with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network to manage subcontracts with the service providers.
The bill would require that at least 90 percent of the state funds be spent on pregnancy-support and wellness services. It would also require the state to continue to contract with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network to run the program.
The Senate on Wednesday debated its version of the bill, (SB 444), and Bean beat back several amendments offered by Democrats. The chamber ultimately took up the House version, a move that means the measure could pass during a floor session Thursday.
One amendment offered Wednesday by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, would have deleted the requirement that the health department contract with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network and would have required the state to competitively bid the contract every three years. Stewart says the program would be more “transparent” with competitive bidding.
Another defeated amendment was an attempt by Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, to require that the services provided by centers be certified or supported “by the weight of medical research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods.”
The Farmer amendment addressed testimony from college students who said during a Senate Health Policy Committee that some providers counseled them on abstinence and how they could still be saved by God despite their “mistakes.”
Sen. Lauren Book, who visited one of the centers with a friend, said she saw pamphlets at the center that suggested abortions were a cause of breast cancer.
This is the second year Bean has sponsored the legislation. The bill usually results in lengthy debate, and Bean said time ran short last year before he could get it passed.
“There’s great passionate testimony on both sides of the aisle,” Bean says.