A bill that would extend health-care coverage to the children of legal immigrants received unanimous approval Wednesday from the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.
The measure (SB 294) would eliminate a five-year waiting period for lawfully residing immigrants to be eligible for KidCare, Florida's subsidized health-insurance program for children. It would cover nearly 23,000 children.
Subcommittee Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah called the bill "long overdue."
This is the fourth year Garcia has sponsored the measure, which is backed by groups such as the United Way of Florida, the Florida Hospital Association, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Florida Parent Teacher Association, Florida CHAIN and the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"If they are legally here, if they have gone through the all the processes," said Margarita Romo of Farm Workers Self-Help, Inc. "It’s time. It’s more than time."
Garcia was quick to emphasize that the bill "only affects legally residing children in the state of Florida. … I wish we could go a step further, but I understand there are political ramifications for that."
Clearing up the issue of legality was key in persuading Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who chairs the Senate Health Policy Committee, to support the measure this year.
"That's the key word, legal," Bean said. "I would not support anything to attract illegal immigrants here, because we've got an immigration problem."
The measure faces likely opposition in the House, where it has never gotten more than a single committee hearing in the past.