LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman charged Tuesday that “illegals” will get a bigger financial break from the Nebraska Legislature this year than middle-class taxpayers, if a bill is passed to restore prenatal care for women in the country illegally.
Heineman made the comment after signing into law four tax break bills, including one that would provide a $67-a-year tax cut for a married couple with $50,000 in adjusted gross income.
The governor compared that to the estimated cost of tax-funded prenatal care for illegal immigrants, which has been estimated at $1,500 to $2,000 per mother.
“We're giving $50 in tax relief for middle-class families this morning, and we're giving $2,000 for illegals. That seems out of balance,” he said at a press conference.
One supporter of the prenatal care bill, State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, said that the unborn children are not “illegal” and that the measure will save money by preventing many costly birth defects, delivery complications and lifelong developmental disabilities.
“We and other states that have adopted this policy have saved significant dollars in medical care,” Ashford said. “But most importantly, it saves lives.
That's a human value.”
The prenatal care issue continues to heat up as the State Legislature enters the waning days of the session.
Legislators are expected to give final round approval to Legislative Bill 599 on Wednesday, the 59th day of the 60-day session.
The faceoff between the Legislature and governor on the bill will delay the end of the 2012 session until April 18.
Heineman said Tuesday that he plans to take the constitutionally provided five days (not counting Sundays) to decide whether to veto the prenatal care bill, even though he has repeatedly promised to veto it.
So the Legislature rescheduled the final day of the session from this Thursday to next Wednesday.
Thirty senators gave first-round approval to the bill last week — the minimum number needed to override a veto.
“I think the (legislative) body will hold together,” said Ashford, adding that lawmakers have been more assertive this year as a separate branch of government.
The prenatal care issue has been burning white hot since lawmakers advanced the funding bill last week through two of the required three rounds of debate.
A group of pro-life senators, led by State Sens. Mike Flood of Norfolk and Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, argue that a healthy start for these children — who automatically become American citizens upon birth and qualify for taxpayer-funded health care — outweighs the legal considerations of whether their mothers are legal residents.
They also cite financial reasons: One case of birth complications since the state ceased paying for such prenatal services has cost taxpayers $800,000 in intensive care bills. That compares with the estimated annual state expense of the prenatal bill of about $560,000.
Heineman, a pro-life governor, and others have framed the issue differently, saying it's about fairness and illegal immigration.
“Nebraskans tell me, ‘You know what, I pay my taxes, I obey the law. Now you want to use my hard-earned tax dollars for illegals.' They object to that,” Heineman said Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Nebraska's Catholic bishops, longtime supporters of prenatal care for immigrants said in a press release that the “necessary response” of pro-life lawmakers is to support prenatal care, regardless of the mother's immigration status.
“The response that is consistent with pro-life principles emanating from human dignity is to ensure access to prenatal health care, which is undeniably known to mitigate the risk,” said the letter written by Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha on behalf of the Nebraska Catholic Conference. “Unborn children are not ‘illegal aliens.' ”
Two years ago, the state ended a decades-long practice of providing taxpayer-funded prenatal care for poor women, including many illegal immigrants, after the federal government said Nebraska would have to change how it was funded.
Since then, coverage has been restored for legal residents, but not for illegal immigrants and others who don't qualify for Medicaid.
LB 599 would restore prenatal services to about 1,100 illegal immigrants a year and about 40 legal residents who are prison inmates.
Heineman said he is concerned that the expected cost of LB 599 will rise once the word gets out that Nebraska will provide the coverage.
Contact the writer: