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April 22, 2010
Both news stories and editorial comments which quickly followed adjournment of the 2010 Nebraska Legislative session tended to leave the impression that the legislators had done a workmanlike, praiseworthy job under difficult circumstances and that Speaker Mike Flood of Norfolk had shown the credentials to be a worthy attorney general or governor.
(One senator, who usually makes more sense, went so far as to say, “If Mike Flood is not governor, we are missing the opportunity of a lifetime as a state.” More about Mike Flood’s performance later in today’s column.)
The truth is that in addition to some praiseworthy work, the legislators set the stage for an enormous budgetary problem in the next two-year budget period starting July 1, 2011. They did this by accepting federal stimulus money to avoid the necessity of either further reducing state spending or increasing state taxes.
The dip into the state’s cash reserve fund is more defensible, since a shortfall in current tax revenues is presumably one reason for building up a cash reserve fund. But the federal stimulus funding is scheduled to end in 2011, and you can’t draw down cash reserve funds which you’ve already spent.
Spotlighting this problem—a bit belated, in my opinion—came after the first round of stories and editorial comment indicating that the legislators had done a praiseworthy job. Several days after adjournment, The World-Herald carried a story under this headline: “Monster budget gap awaits next Legislature”. Entirely predictable was the fact that the story gave no indication that there will be serious consideration of that politician’s nightmare—tax increases.
One positive editorial appraisal of the legislature’s performance carried the headline: “Steadiness at the capitol.” However, in one important area of public policy—abortion—the Legislature’s course was not steady at all. Two separate pieces of legislation were passed which could become national-attention-attracting examples for states to further restrict opportunities for abortion.
Another way to put it would be that the two bills were intended to further restrict women’s opportunities to end unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.
I said earlier that there was general journalistic and legislative colleague praise for the performance of Speaker Mike Flood. He was described repeatedly as a master at bringing people together to seek agreement rather than confrontation.
In the controversial and significant area of abortion law, Flood showed no signs of being a conciliator—a leader who that recognizes that there are two sides to most arguments. On abortion, Flood gives every sign of being a hard-liner. Consider:
The Norfolk senator proposed a law—it would be the first of its kind in the nation—to forbid an abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy unless necessary to protect the pregnant woman from irreversible serious medical consequences.
Flood’s reasoning is that some (but emphatically not all) medical opinion is that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks and therefore Nebraska should change the legal pattern of allowing abortions at least as late as the 22nd week of pregnancy.
Predictably, the measure was supported by the usual anti-abortionists, including a spokesman for the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
Flood’s proposal was, again predictably, given a supposedly attractive title: “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” Any doctor performing an abortion in violation of this only-in-Nebraska abortion restriction could be found guilty of a felony.
Speaker Flood’s controversial bill, in a legislature praised editorially for its “steadiness,” was passed by a 44-5 vote.
The other bill designed to discourage abortions—also an only-in-Nebraska effort which will predictably be tied up in court for years—was introduced by Senator Cap Dierks of Ewing. It sets out a list of tests and questions and “evaluations” which Dierks contends were designed to assure that abortions are not performed at risk to the health or life of the mother. But on being told that the tests and proposed restrictions are so detailed and complex that they are likely have the effect of preventing abortions, Dierks said that was not his intent but indicated that such a result would be quite satisfactory to him.
At the Judiciary Committee hearing on the Dierks anti-abortion bill, supporters included spokesmen for Catholic Social Services, the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the Nebraska Family Council, Family First and Nebraska Right To Life.
Opponents included spokesmen for the Nebraska Medical Association, Methodist Physicians Clinic, Nebraska Methodist Health System, Nebraska Methodist Hospital, Nebraska Psychological Association, Nebraska Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood of Nebraska.
This formidable array of non-emotional, expert opinion on the issue obviously meant less to the Judiciary Committee than did the testimony of the customary anti-abortion activists. The committee voted 5-0 to advance the bill to the legislative floor, where it was passed 40-5, with no sign of conciliation or seeking a middle ground from any of the 40 affirmative voters, including Speaker Mike Flood.Next week, more on the activities of the anti-abortion activists. Also some further comment on the “Mike Flood for Governor” boomlet.
* * *
Charity apparently doesn’t begin at home if you live in the White House.
Release of President and Michelle Obama’s 2009 tax returns showed that the Obamas’ adjusted gross income was $5,505,409 in 2009, mostly from the sale of the president’s two best-selling books. The federal income tax bill was $1,792,414.
The New York Daily News said that Obama “offset his tab somewhat by being very generous, giving $329,100 to 50 different charities.”
Very generous? The total given to charities equaled 5.8% of the Obamas’ adjusted gross income. This was about one-eighth of the percentage of adjusted gross income which Marian and I gave away last year.
(The Daily News noted that Obama gave away all of the $1.4 million that he was awarded in connection with his Nobel Peace Prize. A wise decision. Had he kept the prize money or any significant percentage of it, the result would have been simply to add to the criticism as to why he received the prize at all, after having served only a few months in office and done nothing significant to advance the cause of peace.)
Then there is the amount of charitable contributions given by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill. They reported adjusted gross income of $333,182 and $71,147 in federal income taxes and $4,820 in contributions. That’s right, $4,820 in contributions, which figures to 1.4% of the Bidens’ adjusted gross income.
* * *
The abortion issue wasn’t the only one badly over emotionalized in the recent Nebraska legislative session.
Worthy of serious consideration but not of rhetoric and concern which seemed at times to approach the hysterical was the question of prenatal care for babies of low-income mothers, including a substantial number of mothers who are illegal immigrants.
It turns out that the University of Nebraska Medical Center will continue to offer care to such pregnant mothers, just as has been the case before the federal government moved to cut off use of federal funds in the care of pregnant illegal immigrants.
And buried within one of the multitude of alarmist stories were these facts: As of March 1, there were 1,619 low-income women who lost prenatal services because of a federal directive that ended the more than 20-year practice in Nebraska of providing such care regardless of the women’s immigration status.
But about 4,700 low-income women were able to retain prenatal care after a state review. And of the 1,619 who lost coverage, 752 were U.S. citizens deemed ineligible for reasons such as not following the rules in other welfare programs or not disclosing their incomes or other information. The rest were 867 illegal immigrants.
So of some 6,319 women who were receiving prenatal care on March 1, 86% continued to receive that care or were U.S. citizens disqualified for reasons like not disclosing their income. That left approximately 14% disqualified because they were illegal aliens—quite a different picture than “the sky is falling” tone struck by some legislators and some journalists.
This is not to suggest that the 867 illegal immigrant mothers who lost federal-financed prenatal care did not pose a issue that needed to be addressed—a gap which quickly began to be closed by free service offered by a South Omaha clinic serving low-income residents and by the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The credibility of those moaning about a major medical crisis was not helped by using estimates such as the possibility—an authoritative source of the figures was not reported, in the account that I saw—that a single pregnancy complicated by the lack of prenatal care could result in post-birth medical costs running as high as $600,000.
Nor was the cause of credibility helped by a front-page story which told of an exceptional case—a pregnant unmarried illegal immigrant, age 15, whose life was threatened, the story said, by a rare condition “likely brought on by lack of prenatal care.”
Reading into the story, you learn that the 15-year-old and her 17-year-old boyfriend knew that the young mother-to-be had stopped making visits to a private medical clinic when a social worker informed them that Medicaid would no longer be available. About a month after leaving the care of a private medical clinic, she learned that the OneWorld Community Centers in South Omaha offered inexpensive prenatal visits and she turned to that clinic.
Before her second visit to the OneWorld clinic, she became wracked with pain and the expectant father, a 17-year-old U.S. citizen, called 911. The mother-to-be was taken to the Creighton Medical Clinic. When interviewed, she was recovering at home, with the baby’s delivery paid for by state-funded Medicaid.
The story quoted the 15-year-old mother as saying that she would advise others in her situation to work out some type of affordable prenatal care. Her boyfriend, whom the story described as a skateboarder, wants to earn money to feed his new family.
One might suggest that better advice from the 15-year-old unwed mother might be for others to avoid pregnancy if you and your boyfriend, whether he’s a skateboarder or not, aren’t prepared to get married and live on the income from the job he acquires rather than continuing on public welfare.
Better advice yet would be to use contraceptives to avoid getting pregnant and wait until you are mature enough to make a rational decision in your choice of a “boyfriend” who is a prospect for a married relationship and is capable of supporting you and your children.
Incidentally, but importantly, much was made of the fact that although the mothers involved are illegal immigrants, the child on birth immediately becomes a United States citizen. This is a result of constitutional language adopted shortly after the Civil War to make clear that former slaves would be United States citizens.
There was no way that the drafters of the 14th Amendment could have anticipated that this language would be used in the future to give citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants
It would make sense now for the 14th Amendment to be amended to read that a person born to parents one of whom is a United States citizen becomes a citizen no matter where the birth occurs. It makes no legal nor social justice sense at all to grant automatic American citizenship to children born in this country to illegal immigrants.
* * *
On the occasion of our 58th wedding anniversary April 19, I wrote a brief message thanking Marian for all she had done—much more than her share—to make those 58 years so richly rewarding.
Marian, of course, thanked me for the message which, she said, was so well written that “you should think about taking up journalism.”
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