Bipartisan coalition backs Hunhoff on prenatal care to illegal immigrantsPIERRE — Legislation that would provide prenatal services to pregnant women who are illegal immigrants in South Dakota narrowly won approval Friday in the state House of Representatives.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — Legislation that would provide prenatal services to pregnant women who are illegal immigrants in South Dakota narrowly won approval Friday in the state House of Representatives.
The 39-28 vote turned on the strength of support from women and a bipartisan coalition that didn’t follow the normal conservative-liberal lines.
House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff, of Yankton, is prime sponsor of HB 1214, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.
“It is about healthy babies,” Hunhoff said.
Fourteen of the 15 Democrats present Friday afternoon voted for the bill. Among Republicans, the support was split nearly even. Twenty-five Republicans voted for it and 27 Republicans opposed it.
Women provided the decisive margin. Twelve women voted for the bill while six opposed it. The bill passed with only three votes more than the minimum 36 necessary.
House members rejected an amendment attempted by Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, seeking to require state officials to report the names and addresses of the women to the federal immigration and customs enforcement agency.
“I would just as soon have this lady sent back to the country of origin for prenatal care,” Olson said.
The bill’s purpose is to direct the state Department of Social Services to provide medical services to certain unborn babies, depending upon the mother’s citizenship status.
South Dakota doesn’t offer Medicaid coverage to unborn children or illegal immigrants.
Fifteen states currently offer the services to illegal immigrants under a 2009 federal program, including neighbors Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming.
All bills sponsored by House members were supposed to have cleared the House by the close of business Wednesday but the illegalimmigrant bill was held for an extra two days, which was within the Legislature’s rules, for completion of a fiscal note requested by Rep. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs.
The Legislative Research Council used an analysis prepared by Social Services. It showed potential costs for the first year at $241,777 in state funds and $286,119 in federal funds, assuming the current Medicaid match rate of 54.2 percent of federal aid.
Russell tried Friday to limit the program to pilot status, meaning it would have required approval again at a later date to continue, and tried to attach an appropriation, which would have required a twothirds majority for passage.
But Hunhoff received a big push on his side against Russell from Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, who said it was time to make a yesor-no policy decision.
Hansen said that without prenatal care he and his wife might not have their three children.
“There is no question to human cost of inaction,” he said.
One amendment that was added wouldn’t allow assistance for abortions except when medically necessary. That came from Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, a supporter of the bill.
Another amendment was added by Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, requiring Social Services to annually report on the costs of any waivers or plan amendments for Medicaid services made after Jan. 1. Mickelson later voted against the bill.
Rep. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, tried to rally opposition among conservative Republicans by pointing out the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate.
Greenfield never mentioned the name of Sen. Stan Adelstein, RRapid City, but provided a string of comments about Adelstein’s history of supporting Medicaid expansion.
Hunhoff countered that Adelstein’s other attempts weren’t related to the illegal-immigrant matter.
Greenfield spoke several times to warn House members against supporting the bill.
“This is a foot in the door. There will be an expansion,” Greenfield predicted. “This is going to blow up to huge proportions.”
The fiscal note didn’t contain an actual number for the estimated women who would be aided, but several legislators used the figure of 180 during the debate.
The Daugaard administration didn’t take a public position on the bill during its House hearing Feb. 13. The House State Affairs Committee endorsed the bill that evening 13-0.
Three of the committee’s Republicans — House Speaker Brian Gosch, of Rapid City, Mike Verchio, of Hill City, and Kristin Conzet, of Rapid City, — switched sides and voted against it Friday.