October 30, 2014

No votes to spare as legislature overrides veto of prenatal bill (AUDIO)

Sen. Kathy Campbell/Unicameral Information Office photo

Legislators stuck to their votes and overrode a gubernatorial veto of the prenatal bill.

The Unicameral, on a 30-to-16 vote, approved LB 599 over the objections of Gov. Dave Heineman who declared it a gift to illegal immigrants. Supporters lost one vote from final passage a week ago, but retained just enough votes to override the governor’s veto. The bill would extend Medicaid coverage for the prenatal needs of the poor, including illegal immigrants.

Supporters framed the issue as pro-life, focusing on the health of the unborn child. But opponents, such as Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln, noted the bill did allow taxpayer money to flow to those in the country illegally.

“What I can’t make myself do is to forcibly take tax dollars from someone to pay for the obligations of one who is breaking the law to be here,” Fulton told colleagues during floor debate.

Federal objections to how the state ran a similar program ended prenatal care for approximately 1,600 women in 2010. More than 1,000 of the women were in the country illegally. The program costs approximately $2.5 million. The state portion is projected to total $654,000 per year.

Though supporters used a fiscal argument to make their points, stating that just one unhealthy birth could cost taxpayers much more than $600,000, they placed the most emphasis on compassion for the child in the womb.

Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff told colleagues he supported the override, because it fits with his core principles.

“I believe that a mother who is carrying a child, an unborn child, should have every right and every responsibility to get prenatal care, regardless, regardless of whether they’re a citizen or not,” according to Harms, “because we know when this child is born it’s going to be an American citizen.”

Still, the thought of taxpayer dollars flowing to illegal immigrants prevented others from supporting the bill.

Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala objected to providing tax-funded care to illegal immigrants.

“We have to remember that nothing comes for free. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about this, because there would be enough prenatal advice and prenatal medicine for all of these mothers,” Schilz stated. “Unfortunately, it does cost money and we’re the ones who have to write the check.”

An attempt two years ago to restore the prenatal funding stalled in the legislature and had to be shelved.

Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, sponsor of the measure, had that on her mind as she closed on her motion to override the veto.

“Two years ago, when I stepped forward and asked that we lay the bill over, I made the statement that what many people across Nebraska saw as quote, ‘The right thing to do’, did not prevail,” Campbell stated. “I’m asking today that it shall prevail.”

The legislature overrode LB 599 and LB 357, the local option sales tax bill. It failed to muster enough votes to override LB 806, betting on historic horse races and LB 1020, which would have established a grant to help fund school-based health clinics.

AUDIO: Legislative debate on motion to override LB 599 [1 hour, 5 minutes]