Pa. House passes bill tying funding of Pitt, state-linked universities to fetal tissue research
House Republicans on Wednesday passed long-considered legislation to cut state funding to the University of Pittsburgh and other state-affiliated universities if they engage in fetal tissue research from elective abortions.
The language, grafted onto a rural broadband bill to circumvent the requirement for a two-thirds majority vote on funding for nongovernmental organizations, still needs to be approved by the Senate before it can be voted on. reach Governor Tom Wolf’s office.
The bill, which passed the House with a vote of 109 to 91, is likely to be vetoed.
A separate agricultural research bill was amended to include funding for Pitt, Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln universities and passed 145-55.
Pitt’s funding has been in the crosshairs of conservative lawmakers since 2019 when the Trump administration announced a policy to end federal funding for fetal tissue research.
House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said during budget discussions that year that preventing state money from going to such research might be necessary to gain support for the funding from Pitt.
The problem arose again this year. And House members voted 108 to 92 last month to amend the state-tied college appropriations bill to ban research. With a two-thirds majority vote required for non-preferred appropriations, Republican leaders knew they would not have the votes needed to pass the ban.
The language requires university administrators to swear under oath that they will not “engage in research or experimentation using fetal tissue obtained from elective abortion” to receive the money.
Democrats objected, saying state funding is being used exclusively to provide Pennsylvania students with tuition discounts, and warned the legislation could disrupt the education of thousands of students.
On Wednesday, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Matt Bradford of Montgomery County, accused the fetal tissue research pilot of delaying the budget, which was due to be introduced on June 30. .
“We should have been done a week ago, but we’re not,” Bradford said. “I think the abortion policy inserted into a budget debate is a mistake.”
Bradford declined to talk about discussions with Republican leaders on the matter, but said he did not view the procedural maneuver as a compromise.
“I don’t think there is any compromise on an issue like this. We need to fund our universities,” Bradford said.
House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, said the move was necessary to advance both appropriations for funding state-affiliated universities and a ban on fetal tissue research. .
“That’s how it is sometimes here,” Saylor said.
Saylor would not speculate whether the research ban would pass the Senate or get Wolf’s signature. Wolf’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Saylor’s spokesman, Neal Lesher, said additional conditions on tuition funding for state-linked universities would be announced with the rollout of the tax code bill, which dictates how each department can spend its funding.
They can include academic performance measures, language limiting funding to tuition assistance, and a requirement that universities disclose the value of tuition reductions to students.
“There are still wins for our members and they can talk about the fetal tissue issue with a floor vote in the house,” Lesher said.
Other sticking points in the budget process included Wolf’s push to increase funding for basic education by $1.2 billion, a net corporate income tax cut, and aid for working families in the form of a state earned income tax credit, Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget Policy Center, said.
“That seems to be the main sticking point, how much they’re going to do for businesses and how much they’re going to do for families,” Stier said.
Stier and another person familiar with the education funding debate said the final figure is likely to be just over $1 billion in new funding for basic education, special education and the Level Up program, which channels additional funds to the poorer districts of the state. The amount would also include $100 million each in one-time grants for school safety and mental health care in schools.
Lawmakers also haven’t revealed how they will distribute $2 billion in federal funding for pandemic relief.
“We don’t know if this will all be in the budget,” Stier said. “We are at a stage where they are really silent. That’s how you know they’re getting serious. No one wants to take the risk of blowing up a deal.