- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Gov. Terry Branstad urged Iowa legislators on Tuesday to defund Planned Parenthood and prohibit public workers from bargaining for their health insurance, positions expected to create tension with Democrats unable to stop such efforts.

Branstad made the remarks during his annual Condition of the State address at the Iowa Capitol. The Republican governor kept the remarks on abortion brief, but its inclusion in the roughly 30-minute speech also signified what he may push during his remaining time in office. Branstad is expected to resign soon to become the next ambassador to China, but the timing is dependent on the U.S. Senate confirmation process.

“This budget … redirects family planning money to organizations that focus on providing health care for women and eliminates taxpayer funding for organizations that perform abortions,” he said before receiving a standing ovation from Republicans. Democrats remained seated.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, the incoming governor, supports all of Branstad’s Condition of the State remarks, a spokesman said.

Republicans have complete control of the Iowa Legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in nearly 20 years. No state taxpayer money is currently used on abortions, but their focus on eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood highlights a longstanding ideological effort that’s been stopped by Democrats over the years.

Republicans with control in other statehouses around the country have passed legislation in recent years aimed at abortion restrictions, and similar action is expected in Iowa this session.

Other states that pulled the plug on using state dollars toward Planned Parenthood ran into legal challenges over federal funding, but Iowa Republicans are seeking a somewhat different course.

They plan to stop accepting federal Medicaid money that goes toward family planning services and instead replace it with state money for some of those services. It’s unclear how much a new state program would cost, though the issue may evolve if the new Republican Congress and President-elect Donald Trump change how Medicaid federal dollars are distributed.

Ben Hammes, Branstad’s spokesman, confirmed the governor supports a state-run program. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, also indicated support.

Rachel Lopez of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland released a statement Monday night criticizing the bill and arguing the legislation would hurt low-income women and men accessing family planning services through their organization.

“These extremist politicians are under the mistaken and dangerous assumption that other providers will be able to absorb the patients that Planned Parenthood of the Heartland currently serves,” she said.

Branstad also said he wants to create one statewide health care contract for public workers, a move that would require removing language in the state’s collective bargaining law that currently allows public workers to work with their employers on setting the conditions of health insurance. Unions have said Branstad’s proposal would increase costs for public workers such as police officers, firefighters and other first responders.

Republicans have been clear that they support the governor’s initiative, but they have been vague about whether they would make other changes to the collective bargaining law. Statehouses in at least Kentucky and New Hampshire are considering legislation that progressive groups say will weaken unions, a move that would be similar to action in Wisconsin in 2011.

For now, Branstad has focused on health insurance, arguing that one statewide contract “can provide quality health care at a significantly lower cost and give local governments more flexibility to provide better wages and meet other needs.” The governor did not provide more details on the plan or the savings.

Branstad’s speech comes shortly after he released his formal spending recommendations for the budget year that begins in July. They include a directive to state agencies to make cuts to plug in a roughly $110 million shortfall in the current $7.2 billion budget.

Democrats pounced on the budget shortfall, but they expressed disdain for the proposals regarding abortion and collective bargaining. House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said Democrats could organize public hearings and slow down legislative debate through procedural moves.

“We will be exercising all options that we have available to us as members of the General Assembly,” he said.

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