State lawmakers held their ground in high-profile confrontations with the governor at the end of the legislative session.
Despite harsh criticism from Gov. Dave Heineman and intense pressure during a week of lobbying, legislators held firm and overrode the governor’s veto of two contentious bills. No bill presented higher stakes that LB 599.
Supporters dubbed it a pro-life measure and fiscally prudent. They pointed out prenatal care to illegal immigrants would benefit the unborn child, who, upon birth, would be an American citizen. They stressed the low cost of prenatal care, which often could prevent much more costly post-delivery care if a child is born with low birth weight or a disease which could have been prevented.
For opponents, the bill provides taxpayer funded benefits to people in the country illegally and provides an incentive for illegal immigrants to migrate to Nebraska. The cost of the bill would total $2.5 million, with the state tab exceeding $600,000. They note that price tag could well grow over the years.
LB 599 sponsor, Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, says senators simply stuck to their beliefs in overriding the veto.
“I think a lot of it finally came down to people who truly believed in healthy babies and what that meant for the state,” according to Campbell. “I believe each senator came to this issue with a sense of conscience.”
The issue caused a public and highly unusual split between Gov. Heineman and Speaker of the Legislature, Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk. Heineman had his staff hand-deliver a letter harshly critical of the Speaker for supporting the prenatal bill.
Dear Speaker Flood:
I am extraordinarily disappointed with your support of taxpayer funded benefits for illegal aliens. LB 599 is about illegal immigration.
Taxpayer funds should not be used for illegal individuals. If this bill becomes law, Nebraska will become a magnet for illegal aliens. Nebraska will become the only state in the Midwest providing taxpayer-funded benefits to illegals. None of our neighboring states, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota, provide taxpayer-funded benefits to illegals.
Over the next decade, you will be spending the hard earned tax dollars of legal Nebraska citizens on illegal aliens instead of Nebraska citizens. That means millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent on illegals instead of increased funding for education and other Nebraska priorities.
Why should illegal aliens receive millions of taxpayer dollars when those funds should be used for increased state aid to education to the Norfolk Public Schools, the Omaha Public Schools, the Lincoln Public Schools and Nebraska’s 246 other school districts?
The governor also criticized the Speaker for support LB 357, which gives cities authority to seek voter-approved increases in their sales taxes.
Flood downplays the clash between the legislature and the governor.
“This isn’t about winning or losing. This is about what you think the right policy is,” Flood says. “And I think 30 senators agreed that these unborn children are innocent victims in a very red-hot immigration debate.”
Still, Heineman calls the legislature’s action the last day of the session on high-profile issues misguided.
“Serious issues that Nebraskans really care about and I don’t think those are over yet,” Heineman says. “They’re likely to be remembered for a long time.”
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]