- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House yesterday rejected amendments to the budget bill that would have restricted taxpayer-funded abortions and prevented the elimination of the Office of Children, Youth and Families.

An amendment by Delegate John G. Trueschler, Baltimore County Republican, to limit abortion funding to cases of rape, incest and possible death of the mother was defeated in a 79-52 vote. Similar measures have been offered and rejected in every recent legislative session.

The vote came as the House gave preliminary approval to amendments cutting about $500 million from the $26.1 billion budget for fiscal 2006 that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. submitted to the legislature in January. A final House vote is expected later this week, and the budget then will move to the state Senate for consideration.

“This is a baby we are talking about,” Mr. Trueschler said in introducing the amendment on the House floor. “So, when you are voting on the bills and amendments, I would hope you remember that.”

Speaking in opposition to the amendment, Delegate Hattie N. Harrison told of a young woman in her neighborhood who feared telling her parents she was pregnant and died attempting to terminate the pregnancy with a “coat hanger.”

“Why can’t we work with these children?” the Baltimore Democrat said. “If you cut any of these funds, there won’t be a program to work with these children.”

An amendment by Delegate Joseph C. Boteler III, Baltimore County Republican, to preserve funding for the Office of Children, Youth and Families was defeated in a 91-44 vote that fell largely along partisan lines.

“This is a giant step backwards,” Mr. Boteler said of the proposed elimination in the budget of nearly half the positions in the office, which coordinates and promotes community-based programs to help children and families.

Mr. Boteler noted that Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, already had cut the office’s staff from 64 to 40 positions. “It is expected that this new organization’s structure will be focused, efficient and effective,” he said.

Mr. Ehrlich had planned to elevate the office to a Cabinet-level agency.

House Minority Leader George E. Edwards said after the vote that the dismantling of the office was a blow to the governor’s “year of the child” initiatives.

“It was one of the governor’s main things,” said Mr. Edwards, a Republican representing Garrett and Allegany counties.

Members of the Appropriations Committee and Ways and Means Committee said the elimination of the office would not affect the office’s programs, which would be farmed out to other agencies.

“We are not taking dollar one away from the programs,” said Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat and chairwoman of Ways and Means. “Those [employees] with the hands-on involvement in programs are intact.”

Republican lawmakers contend that the cuts at the Office of Children, Youth and Families are among budget cuts crafted by House Democratic leaders to fire employees hired by Mr. Ehrlich. Jobs eliminated at the office included the post of special secretary held by M. Teresa Garland, who has ties to Mr. Ehrlich’s wife.

“We believe in the end you are going to like this,” said Delegate John L. Bohanan Jr., St. Mary’s Democrat and chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee.

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