LINCOLN — Lacking enough votes to advance one of the legislative session's most controversial subjects, State Sen. Kathy Campbell is taking a new tack to restore government-funded prenatal care for low-income women.
The Lincoln senator began shopping for support Monday for an amendment that would restore the program for low-income women who report their pregnancies and sign up by April 17.
The amendment would revive such care for about 1,500 women — including about 800 illegal immigrants — who lost their coverage March 1, along with any newly pregnant women who sign up by April 17. Those seeking such aid after April 17, however, would not get it.
“This will help people who got caught in the transition,” Campbell said.
A debate on whether to fully resume such coverage, which had been provided in Nebraska for more than two decades, could be held next year, she added.
Gov. Dave Heineman, who opposes taxpayer-funded services for illegal immigrants and was adamantly against Campbell's original proposal, was noncommittal when interviewed as he walked a new puppy, “Snickers,” outside the Governor's Mansion Monday evening.
He said he had heard that a compromise plan was brewing but had not seen it.
“Let me see what it is first,” Heineman said.
Louisville Sen. Dave Pankonin, an early opponent of Campbell's original proposal, said the governor's support will be essential if the new amendment is to be successful.
“That's the only way it will happen,” Pankonin said.
Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, speaker of the Legislature helped Campbell work on the proposed amendment. Flood said it provided a “fair transition” but also puts women on notice about when enrollment will end.
“This is a transition, one that allows those women, regardless of their immigration status, to receive the prenatal care, provided they're enrolled prior to April 17,” Flood said.
Senators, he said, are interested in doing something, but there weren't enough votes to pass the original proposal.
“You do what you can with the votes you have,” Flood said.
As initially drafted, Legislative Bill 1110 would have immediately restored prenatal services to all women who had lost them because of a recent federal directive. But support for the bill has reportedly eroded significantly since it was advanced 6-1 by the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee a week ago.
At that point, Campbell and others said the bill had more than 30 backers, enough to override an expected veto from Heineman and just a couple of votes short of the 33 needed to pass the bill with an emergency clause, which would allow the care to resume immediately.
Campbell said Monday she lacked the 30 votes.
Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, who backs the bill, said support had fallen to less than 25 votes, the minimum needed to pass a bill, in the face of criticism from anti-immigration groups.
“I can count,” Coash said. “There's been a lot of pressure from constituents.”
With 24 of the Legislature's 49 seats up for re-election this year, he said, many senators feared retribution at the ballot box.
Campbell said she has talked to most of her colleagues and feels more confident about her revised plan .
Backers of LB 1110, which included every major right-to-life and medical association in the state, had said it was particularly unfair to cut off services in the middle of a pregnancy.
Advocates said it made sense to provide prenatal services to unborn babies who would become U.S. citizens automatically upon birth. They also said it made financial sense because prenatal care can save thousands of dollars later by avoiding premature births, complicated deliveries, birth defects and other increased government costs.
Opponents of the bill were equally adamant, saying tax dollars should not be spent on families here illegally. Representatives of anti-immigrant groups had said that pregnant women here illegally should be deported, or their medical bills presented to the Mexican government.
Money could be a big issue in passing the revised bill. Campbell said her new proposal would have to be paid entirely through the state's general fund. The original LB 1110 called for a new Children's Health Insurance Program to be set up, which would be partially funded by the federal government.