Bill To Ensure Healthy Babies Passes Committee Despite Gop Opposition

April 08, 2008
Contact: Rodney Foo @  (408) 282-8920

Assembly Bill 2129 -- legislation designed to prevent pregnant women from using alcohol or drugs to ensure more healthy babies are born in California – was passed out of the Assembly Health Committee today with only a single Republican vote from Assemblymember Audra Strickland.

"It's disturbing to me that only one of our Republican colleagues would vote for a bill that would mitigate needless human misery: the birth defects or developmental disabilities associated with drug- or alcohol-abuse. I applaud Ms. Strickland for going against her caucus and doing the right thing,'' said Assemblymember Jim Beall, Jr., D-San Jose, who introduced the bill.

Most Republicans cited an alleged increase in costs during a tough budget as their reason for voting against the bill. In fact, it is a pennywise and pound-foolish approach because this bill uses local not state funds to leverage federal dollars, said Beall, who also serves as the chairman of the Select Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

''Their rationale fails to recognize that the financial and human costs are far higher by choosing not to implement this prevention program at the outset,'' Beall said.

Assembly Bill 2129 requires the Department of Health to institute screening and a brief intervention program for pregnant women and women of child-bearing years who are suffering from drug and alcohol abuse.

This screening program, which includes a line of brief questions to identify expectant mothers who are drinking or using drugs, takes only a few minutes and can easily be incorporated into the initial prenatal examination and follow-up visits.

Federal matching funds specifically earmarked to treat these women are available. Beall's companion bill, AB 2124, enables counties to get the funds by using their local dollars instead of state funds to obtain a $1 for $1 federal match. AB 2124 passed out of Assembly Health Committee with no objections.

Choosing not to identify and treat expectant mothers who are using alcohol and drugs gambles with the unborn child's life and is a fiscally imprudent policy for California.

During 2006 and 2007, there were 190 drug-exposed babies born in Santa Clara County – 115 were born at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, the county hospital supported by local taxpayers.

Data from 2005 showed the hospital costs associated with a premature baby was $32,325 and 13 days compared with $3,325 and 1.5 days for a regular-term baby.

The estimated cost per pupil per year for special education is $30,000 versus $9,000 for a regularly educated pupil.

The lifetime cost for a person with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome exceeds $1.6 million in medical costs, special education, and residential care plus $400,000 in productivity losses for a total of more than $2 million.