LINCOLN — As promised, Gov. Dave Heineman on Friday vetoed a controversial bill that would restore prenatal services for illegal immigrants.
But the pro-life governor's veto message included a new and potentially explosive new charge: that some of the prenatal funds could find their way to a leading pro-choice organization, Planned Parenthood.
“I oppose providing taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants,” Heineman said in a press release. “I oppose providing taxpayer funding to vendors that perform or promote abortions.”
A Planned Parenthood of the Heartland official said Friday that the organization doesn't provide prenatal services at its Nebraska clinics, which are in Omaha and Lincoln.
Supporters of the bill, including some anti-abortion officials, said the charge was a last-minute attempt to derail an attempted override of the governor's veto. The Legislature's override vote on Legislative Bill 599 is scheduled for Wednesday.
“This is nothing more than an eleventh-hour attempt to scuttle LB 599,” said Julie Schmit-Albin, the executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, the leading anti-abortion organization in the state.
State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, the chief sponsor of the bill, said she was “disturbed” that the comment about Planned Parenthood wasn't raised until after the measure had progressed through three rounds of debate in the Legislature.
But Campbell said she did not think it would erode support for LB 599, to which 31 lawmakers gave final-round approval — one vote more than necessary to override the governor's veto.
“I think we are gaining support across the state,” Campbell said. “Certainly from the emails I got today, there is support for LB 599. Eighty-five percent were positive, and very strong in their support.”
The governor's veto came one day after five state lawmakers, led by Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, chartered an airplane to conduct a series of press events designed to explain why they supported the bill. Other senators held pro-LB 599 press conferences Friday at hospitals in Omaha and Lincoln.
Such fly-arounds typically are reserved for the governor. The senators' trip was seen as another sign that the Legislature this year has increasingly exercised its power as a branch of government separate from the executive.
Supporters and opponents of LB 599 agree on one point: It is a difficult issue that pits the protection of unborn babies against the distribution of taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants.
Heineman on Friday repeated his argument that taxes paid by “hardworking Nebraskans” should not be used for women who violated immigration laws, and that passage of LB 599 would make the state “a sanctuary” for illegal immigrants.
“This is wrong and fundamentally unfair,” Heineman said. “An illegal immigrant from any bordering city or town could establish residency in Nebraska in the morning and apply for benefits under LB 599 in the afternoon.”
While Heineman said it was not a “pro-life issue,” many supporters of the bill said that is the basis of their support.
“This bill fundamentally respects the life that is created,” said Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, regardless of the mother's immigration status.
Nordquist was one of five Omaha lawmakers at the press event Friday at Creighton University Medical Center.
“The governor's actions haven't made him any new friends,” Nordquist said. “It's just made senators more resolute.”
Two years ago, the federal government informed Nebraska that it had to end its three-decade-long policy of providing taxpayer-financed prenatal care for low-income women, whether they were in the country legally or illegally.
The state was told that such care could be resumed by adding it to the state's child health-insurance program, but the state and Legislature declined.
That led to LB 599, which was introduced a year ago but wasn't debated until late last month. The bill would restore prenatal services to an estimated 1,110 illegal immigrants and about 40 women incarcerated in Nebraska prisons. It would cost about $560,000 a year in state funds and about $1.9 million in federal funds.
Heineman has said the money should be used for other state purposes, such as K-12 education.
Supporters of LB 599 say taxpayers will save money by heading off expensive neonatal intensive care bills for babies born with birth defects and other maladies that are prevented with proper prenatal care.
A survey of hospitals presented to lawmakers by proponents found one case alone that cost taxpayers more than $800,000.
Heineman, in his veto message, raised the concern that LB 599 had a constitutional defect because it sets up a program in which the federal government, rather than the state, sets the eligibility.
Becky Gould of the Lincoln-based Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest disagreed with that legal analysis.
She also said the governor's contention that Nebraska would become a “sanctuary state” is a “red herring.”
“That's not why people come to Nebraska. It's to work and be with family,” Gould said.
Women must be Nebraska residents to obtain prenatal care for their children, she said, adding that the babies would be the technical recipients of the care.
Gould said a woman would have to remain a resident to continue to get the benefits, which would be paid directly to doctors and clinics that provide prenatal care.
Jill June, president of Des Moines-based Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said her organization had “quietly” supported LB 599 though Planned Parenthood doesn't provide prenatal services in Nebraska. The organization does provide such services in other states, she said, adding that it was “curious” the governor was attacking her organization.
“Ninety-eight percent of what Planned Parenthood does is to prevent unintended pregnancy,” June said.
“You would think he would be in favor of what we're doing,” she added, if he opposes providing care for women who become pregnant.
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