UPDATE: SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. - State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, the speaker of the Legislature, and four other lawmakers stopped here Thursday in a daylong tour of neonatal intensive care units around the state.
The legislators are doing the public relations fly-around, at their own expense, to explain their support for Legislative Bill 599, which would reinstate prenatal care for illegal immigrants.
At their first stop in Scottsbluff, Dr. David Holdt, who heads a local obstetrics-gynocology clinic, said it was a "no brainer" to provide the low-cost preventive care because of the expensive health complications that come later.
"Every dollar we spend on that young mother will save $4 or more," Holdt said. "I believe that."
He said the shutoff of prenatal care has caused immigrant women to be "reluctant" to seekprenatal care, even though his clinic will provide it without charge. That has caused women to seek care later, too late to address issues such as gestational diabetes.
"If life begins at conception, let's use our pro-life values to fight for babies that find themselves in this situation," Flood said.
The group was also planning stops in Kearney and Grand Island.
LINCOLN — State lawmakers are planning a public relations offensive to demonstrate why Nebraska taxpayers should resume funding of prenatal care for illegal immigrants.
Plans for a statewide series of press conferences were unveiled after the Nebraska Legislature voted 31-15 Wednesday to give final-round approval to a controversial bill that would restore the taxpayer-funded preventive care.
The vote, on the 59th day of the 60-day session, sets up a last-day showdown with Gov. Dave Heineman over the issue.
Heineman, a staunch foe of granting benefits to illegal immigrants, has promised a veto of Legislative Bill 599.
State senators would have to muster at least 30 votes of the 49 members to make LB 599 law. That vote will come next Wednesday.
Supporters of LB 599 said Wednesday they won't be sitting around waiting for that politically charged vote.
State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, the speaker of the Legislature, said he and four other lawmakers will fly Thursday, at their own expense, to neonatal intensive care units at Scottsbluff, Kearney and Grand Island to explain their support.
Other senators plan similar press conferences Friday in Omaha and Lincoln.
Flood, criticized by Heineman last week for supporting LB 599, said the trip is not about pushing back against the governor but about explaining why so many lawmakers approved the bill.
"I want to make sure that both sides have an opportunity to present information," Flood said. "I respect people's right to disagree on this issue. It's not a black-and-white issue."
The governor agreed in a telephone interview that it was not a governor-vs.-Legislature fight but a legitimate debate about how tax dollars should be used.
Heineman said he is convinced that Nebraskans don't want their tax dollars spent on health care for "illegals" and was "happy" that supporters will be publicizing their opposing viewpoint.
"That will inform the citizens more," he said. "And I know from talking to them that the more they know, the more infuriated they get."
Flood and other supporters have argued that LB 599 is about being consistent on pro-life issues as well as saving taxpayer money.
Proponents say proper prenatal care can avoid birth defects, delivery complications and lifelong health issues for children who automatically become U.S. citizens upon their birth and qualify for taxpayer-funded health care.
Flood said babies who lack prenatal care often are born underweight, which leads to expensive stays in neonatal intensive care units.
“The taxpayers are going to pay at the end of the day,” he said.
During a press conference Wednesday attended by 12 senators who supported LB 599, Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell read a letter from a health clinic official about a woman who didn't come for her first prenatal visit until the 24th week of her pregnancy.
Her baby was born with an infection and birth defects that will cost “several thousand” dollars to treat that could have been prevented by an inexpensive medication, had she sought prenatal care earlier, the clinic official said.
“Prenatal care matters. And it matters for a lifetime,” Campbell said. “LB 599 is about healthy babies.”
The bill is projected to cost about $650,000 a year in state funds and $1.9 million in matching federal funds. It would provide prenatal care for 1,100 illegal immigrants, along with about 40 pregnant women who are in state corrections facilities. The state corrections department would save $215,000 a year under the bill.
Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor, a former hospital administrator, said prenatal care is “an ounce of prevention that results in a pound of cure.”
“This is also the right decision to make to save tax dollars,” Gloor said.
Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton, who opposes the bill, disputed the cost savings, saying private charities and public health clinics have provided, with some difficulty, the prenatal care lost two years ago when the state ended a decades-old policy.
Fulton, who considers himself pro-life, said his “no” vote on LB 599 was one of the most difficult votes he has had to make. But, he said, Nebraskans should not be required to pay for such care.
Campbell said it is unrealistic to expect charities to sustain the prenatal care.
Heineman said he understands of benefits of prenatal care and has no objections if it is provided by nontaxpayer funds.
“I have a very good sense where Nebraskans are at on this issue,” he said.
“They tell me over and over, I play by the rules, I pay taxes, and you're going to use my tax dollars for illegals? That's the issue.”
Officials who gathered at a State Capitol vigil Wednesday evening in support of LB 599 disputed Heineman's reading of public opinion.
Former U.S. Rep. John Cavanaugh, now executive director of Building Bright Futures in Omaha, said a late-March poll of 500 Nebraskans indicated that 69 percent either strongly favored or somewhat favored restoration of state-funded prenatal care.
A coalition of 27 groups, including the Nebraska Hospital Association, Boys Town, March of Dimes and Alegent Health, support the bill, Cavanaugh said.
“This is about health care for kids, for infants,” he said, “and if they don't get it, it will be a huge cost burden on the state.”
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