LINCOLN — The day after 30 state lawmakers advanced a controversial bill to restore taxpayer-funded prenatal care for illegal immigrants, Gov. Dave Heineman singled out for criticism a fellow Republican leader who helped push the bill.
Heineman, who has made a reputation for his staunch anti-illegal immigration views, called a press conference Wednesday to express his "extraordinary" disappointment in State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, the speaker of the Legislature and a leading pro-life senator.
"Why should illegal aliens receive millions of taxpayer dollars when those funds should be used for increased state aid to education?" Heineman asked.
Flood, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2014, was among senators giving first-round approval to the bill, under which an estimated 1,100 low-income, women, mostly illegal immigrants, would be eligible for prenatal care funded by the state. The bill would resume a decades-long policy that was ended in 2010.
Flood said Wednesday his support for the prenatal bill was linked to both pro-life and fiscal reasons. He said he had not talked to the governor.
During floor debate Tuesday night, Flood said that in balancing the "rule of law" with the "pro-life position," he has to side with the health of an unborn baby.
"The unborn child should not be punished for the actions of his or her parents," he said. "We should protect the life of an unborn child whenever possible."
At least 13 other Republicans voted "yes" on the 30-16 vote to advance Legislative Bill 599. Heineman said he singled out Flood for criticism because he had become a "leader" in the effort to pass the prenatal bill.
Heineman said that passing LB 599 with make Nebraska a "magnet" for illegal immigrants because neighboring states don't provide such prenatal care.
The governor also criticized Flood for supporting a bill that would allow cities, with voter approval, to increase local sales taxes by a half-cent for infrastructure projects.
Heineman, in a letter to Flood, said that "unless you and the Legislature reverse course, the legacy of this session will be one in which illegals were given preferential treatment over legal Nebraska residents."
Taxpayers, he said, are already paying for medical treatment of illegal immigrants. Flood said the estimated $650,000 annual cost of LB 599 is much less than taxpayers are currently paying in higher prices for emergency births and long stays in neonatal intensive care units for children who develop complications because of the lack of prenatal care.
Flood was the main author of a Nebraska law passed two years ago that bans abortions after 20 weeks, when fetuses start to experience pain. That pro-life bill has spawned similar bills in other states.
Flood said he decided that if he's going to push pro-life legislation like that, "then I'm going to be pro-life when it's tough to be," a reference to the prenatal bill.
Flood said the data doesn't support the idea that pregnant mothers who are illegal immigrants will move to a state just because they offer prenatal care. He added that he feels that Nebraskans understand and support the idea that prenatal care will save taxpayer dollars.
The friction between the two leading Republicans came a day after state lawmakers overrode the governor's veto of paying child-welfare subcontractors $2.5 million in bills that were left unpaid by a private contractor the state had hired to run the system in central and western Nebraska.
The veto and the advancement of LB 599 have been seen as examples of the Legislature's increasing willingness to disagree with the governor this session.
Flood, however, voted against paying the $2.5 million in claims.
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