LINCOLN — The election likely strengthened the political hand of those wishing to retain taxpayer-funded prenatal care for the unborn babies of illegal immigrants.
Supporters of the prenatal care law — approved last spring over Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto — picked up a net of at least two new supporters in the Nebraska Legislature.
Also elected on Tuesday was former State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who has vowed to fight anything advanced by the governor and is skilled at blocking legislation.
Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha said it would be hard to repeal the prenatal care law, Legislative Bill 599, given the election results in the 49-seat Legislature.
“It’s going to be a more progressive Legislature,” Ashford said. “The voters decided to go with candidates in very contested races who are very concerned about funding of health care and education.”
The prenatal care issue was one of the most emotional of the 2012 session, pitting abortion opponents against lawmakers who oppose illegal immigration and seek to save taxpayers money.
It also became a hot-button issue in a handful of races in which Heineman endorsed and campaigned for candidates who shared his opposition.
The Heineman administration, through the recent budget request of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, has already said that the issue will be revisited in the 2013 session. The budget request proposes to withdraw all funding for LB 599, which was estimated to require $650,000 in state funds and $1.9 million in federal funds.
Several senators have argued that proper prenatal care would save taxpayers much more money by preventing expensive bills for complicated deliveries, intensive care unit stays and life-long disabilities of children who are born American citizens.
Heineman, while expressing concern for the children, portrayed it as wrongly providing services to illegal immigrants. Charities and religious groups, he said, could provide the care.
A handful of candidates backed by the governor lost in Tuesday’s election, and a leading abortion opponent said the prenatal issue — and what she called “misleading” campaign literature on the subject — played a role.
Julie Schmit-Albin of Nebraska Right to Life said five candidates who were not endorsed by her organization mailed out fliers indicating that they “stood with” abortion opponents organizations in their support of the prenatal care law.
Four of those candidates — Kate Bolz of Lincoln, Rick Kolowski of Omaha, Sue Crawford of Bellevue and Sen. Ken Haar of Lincoln — defeated candidates endorsed by Heineman and Right to Life. The only one to lose was Judy Domina in her race against Sen. Beau McCoy in western Douglas County.
Schmit-Albin said the mailers were misleading because it gave the impression that the candidates were “pro-life,” when prenatal care might have been the only issue in which they agreed with groups like Right to Life and the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
She called it a “clever way” to dilute the power of her group’s endorsements, even though Right to Life backed the prenatal care bill. Schmit-Albin pointed out that two of the candidates, Haar and Domina, were endorsed by Planned Parenthood, a leading abortion rights advocacy group.
Greg Schleppenbach of the Catholic Conference said he was disturbed that his organization — which doesn’t make endorsements — was named in a couple of the mailers. He said he was concerned that some of the candidates were not consistent in their views, because they supported abortion rights while also supporting the prenatal services.
An official with the Nebraska Republican Party also complained about the mailers. All of the candidates using them were Democrats.
Kolowski defended the literature he sent out. It included a letter from Catholic bishops explaining their support for the prenatal services. Kolowski said his mailer didn’t say he was “endorsed” by the groups, only that he “stands with” them on the prenatal issue, which is accurate.
“It’s self-explanatory,” Kolowski said. “There’s nothing more or less to say.”
Opponents of the prenatal care law picked up one ally when John Murante of Gretna was elected, replacing a senator, LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth, who voted in favor of LB 599.
Bolz and Kolowski replaced senators who either opposed the bill or did not vote on the issue. Newly elected Al Davis of Hyannis said he will support providing the prenatal services if, as he’s heard, it saves taxpayer money. Davis will replace Sen. Deb Fischer, who opposed the bill.
That’s a net gain of two votes for LB 599, which drew support from 30 of 49 senators to override the governor’s veto.
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