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Nebraska approves prenatal care for illegal immigrants

April 19, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • Nebraska state Sen. Cathy Campbell, right, with Sen. Amanda McGill, wipes away tears of joy after lawmakers override the governor's veto of a bill to restore prenatal care benefits for illegal immigrants.
Nebraska state Sen. Cathy Campbell, right, with Sen. Amanda McGill, wipes… (Nati Harnik / Associated…)

Nebraska legislators handed the governor a political defeat by overriding his veto of a bill that forced conservatives to chose among conflicting priorities, such as care for the unborn, illegal immigrants and even fiscal austerity.

On the final day of the state’s legislative session Wednesday, lawmakers in the single-chamber, nonpartisan house overrode the governor’s veto of a prenatal health bill for illegal immigrants in a narrow 30-16 vote with three present but not voting. Lawmakers also got the needed 30 votes to override another veto of a bill dealing with sales tax increases.

“Today, the majority of the Nebraska Legislature decided their priorities are providing taxpayer-funded benefits to illegal immigrants and increasing the sales tax rate on the citizens of Nebraska,” Gov. Dave Heineman said in a prepared statement after the votes. “I strongly disagree with their decisions. Providing preferential treatment to illegals while increasing taxes on legal Nebraska citizens is misguided, misplaced and inappropriate.”

On a policy level, the issue is fairly straightforward, even if the politics of ideology can be complicated.

In 2010, the federal government ordered Nebraska to stop offering prenatal care benefits through Medicaid, the program offering healthcare for the poor. About 870 illegal immigrants and 750 legal residents lost coverage, but the recent bill restores that help by shifting the payments to the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The payments for the prenatal care would reportedly cost an estimated $650,000 in state money and $1.9 million in federal tax dollars. Supporters of the measure argue that a lack of prenatal care can lead to developmental problems that cost far more in treatment costs than the expense of providing prenatal care -- a frequent argument in any healthcare debate.

The politics of the issue are a bit more confusing. Protecting unborn fetuses would seem to be a conservative priority, but with more than half of the pregnant women in Nebraska being illegal immigrants, two conservative ideals seem to be in conflict.

For Mike Flood, speaker of the chamber and a Republican, like the governor, the key issue was caring for fetuses. Flood, a leading abortion opponent, argued that the babies will be U.S. citizens and that prenatal care is consistent with opposition to abortion.

“If I'm going to stand up in the Legislature and protect babies at 20 weeks from abortion, and hordes of senators and citizens are going to stand behind me, and that's pro-life, then I'm going to be pro-life when it's tough, too,” Flood argued Wednesday night, according to the Associated Press.

“Most Nebraskans and I agree, we support prenatal care, but in the case of illegal immigrants, it should be done by churches, private organizations, charities, private individuals -- not the use of taxpayer funds,” Heineman stated.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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