LINCOLN — A proposal to repeal publicly funded prenatal care for babies of illegal immigrants got a hostile reception Thursday from a legislative committee.
In fact, the only thing that stopped the Health and Human Services Committee from killing the bill outright was its practice of waiting a few days before voting on bills heard in committee.
State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha didn't want to wait.
“If I had my way, I'd IPP (indefinitely postpone) this thing when you walked out the door,” he told the bill's sponsor, Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont.
Krist accused Janssen of introducing Legislative Bill 518 to further his campaign for governor.
Janssen is the only declared candidate in the 2014 race. Both he and Krist are Republicans.
“I take offense to people making immigration, legal or illegal, a campaign issue,” Krist said.
But Janssen said it is “fundamentally unfair” to ask Nebraska taxpayers to pay for prenatal care for babies of people who entered the United States illegally.
“I am concerned that, when we allow public benefits at taxpayers' expense, we reward illegal behavior,” he said.
He said the Nebraska prenatal care program, approved last year over a veto, could attract more illegal immigrants to the state.
The override vote marked a major setback for Gov. Dave Heineman, who had fought hard against providing such care.
Thursday's public hearing brought echoes of last year's emotional battles.
Heineman did not appear at the hearing, even though he included repeal of the prenatal care program in his budget.
State Medicaid Director Vivianne Chaumont gave the administration's arguments in support of LB 518.
“The key issue remains whether illegal immigrants should be receiving taxpayer-funded benefits,” she said.
Opponents of LB 518 included most of the groups that had pushed for the prenatal care bill last year.
They were joined this year by Yazmin Gamez of Lincoln and her 4-year-old daughter, Yariana.
“I used to be one of these women currently being attacked,” Gamez told lawmakers.
She does not have legal status, though she spent most of her childhood in Nebraska. Her parents brought her to the United States illegally.
When she became pregnant, Nebraska still provided Medicaid coverage for unborn babies.
The state ended such coverage in March 2010, after federal officials notified the state that Medicaid must be based on the woman's eligibility.
The officials said Nebraska could provide coverage for unborn babies under the Children's Health Insurance Program, but Heineman rejected that idea.
Gamez said that because she had prenatal care, she was diagnosed and treated for iron deficiency anemia. Treatment prevented her daughter from being born prematurely, too small or even dying.
“If LB 518 is voted out of committee, there will be other cases like mine, but this time with devastating results,” Gamez said.
Health care groups and advocacy organizations reminded lawmakers of the fiscal and moral arguments for providing care.
Children born in the United States, no matter their parents' immigration status, are American citizens, they said.
That means taxpayers save when prenatal care prevents those babies from being born prematurely or suffering disabilities.
Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, said the state should not be picking and choosing which children get care.
“Please acknowledge the humanity of all unborn children,” she said.
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