Senate GOP leader warns against abortion debate

SHNS file photo / State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester

Just days from the opening of the state Senate's budget debate, Minority Leader Bruce Tarr implored Democrats not to renege on what he considered to be a promise from the party's leaders to avoid taking up major issues like abortion in this year's extended formal sessions.

"I would hope that folks would not venture into the counterproductive territory in this particular budget of trying to change large elements of public policy," Tarr told State House News Service last Thursday.

The Gloucester Republican said he went along with Democratic leaders' plan in July to extend formal session through the end of the year due to the pandemic in order to take up a late state budget, the five bills still being negotiated by conference committees, and any necessary emergency legislation related to COVID-19.

Now, he says, Democrats may be altering the terms of that deal.

"This is a singularly unique budget that affects how we are going to combat an unprecedented global pandemic, and it's going to set the stage for the tools that we're going to use and the course that we're going to take, not only to protect public health, but also to try to protect increased damage to the economy," he said. "I hope that we as an institution will have the discipline not to engage in large policy making activities outside the scope of the exercise I just described."

Senate President Karen Spilka repeatedly said in the months after the traditional end of formal sessions on July 31 that the Senate would limit its activity in the manner described by Tarr.

But after the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Spilka and Speaker Robert DeLeo committed to taking up a bill to protect and expand access to abortion in Massachusetts.

The House is on the verge of tacking a version of what is called the ROE Act onto its budget, and Spilka expected a similar amendment to be filed in the Senate for  consideration this week.

She did not indicate whether she would support it as a budget amendment.

Tarr, who leads a caucus of just four Republicans and wouldn't have the votes to block an abortion amendment, said if Democrats continue on this course he'd have to reconsider his approach as well.

"We'll have to think about everything that could be discussed in the budget debate," Tarr said.

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