SALEM — Government-funded health care will be accessible for more than 14,000 children in Oregon who were brought to the United States illegally, under a bill the Legislature passed on Friday and that has been championed by the governor.
Debate over the measure, which passed the House 37-23 on the last day of the 2017 legislative session, was testy at times. It culminated a wave of legislation aimed at protecting immigrants against a federal crackdown by the Trump administration, which is stepping up deportations and vows to build a wall along the Mexican border.
The cost of extending health care for an estimated additional 14,174 children during an 18 month-period starting on Jan. 1, 2018, when the bill takes effect, will be $36.1 million, according to the state Department of Administrative Services.
Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, a Democrat who herself was brought illegally to the U.S. from Mexico as a child and later gained U.S. citizenship, said the "Cover All Kids" bill is a priority for families in her district, centered around the primarily Latino town of Woodburn between Portland and Salem.
"For so many families in my district, when a child is sick or has a medical emergency, it can be one of the most painful things a parent can face," Alonso Leon said on the floor of the House before the vote. "That is because it often means choosing between getting their children the care they need, or putting food on the table, or paying rent for that month. I believe that no Oregon family should even have to make these choices."
Rep. Julie Parrish, a Republican from the Portland suburb of West Linn, opposed the bill, asking how much more of a financial burden Oregonians can bear.
House Republican Leader Mike McLane, of Powell Butte in Central Oregon's high desert, stood up and complained after a fellow lawmaker said passing the bill was the right thing to do.
"That impugns the motives of a contrary vote," McLane said.
House Speaker Tina Kotek dismissed the complaint, telling McLane it's a common phrase that's not meant to impugn anyone.
Another Republican, Rep. Duane Stark of the foothills town of Grants Pass, then took up the issue.
"The right thing to do is to take care of our citizens," Stark said. "The right thing to do is to not jeopardize our federal funding. The right thing to do is to not extend our health care system when we've been struggling to pay our current obligations. The right thing to do is to vote no."
Gov. Kate Brown responded on Twitter after the yes vote, saying "I'm proud the House helped fulfill our duty to ensure all Oregon's children have access to health care by passing #CoverAllKids today."