Groups make stands at veto session

Thursday, September 11, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- They came by the hundreds from all across Missouri to make their voices heard on the first day of the annual legislative veto session.

People representing both sides of the abortion debate gathered because of a bill that would require a woman to wait 24-hours before having an abortion. Supporters of legislation that would allow some Missourians to carry concealed guns also pleaded their case to lawmakers.

And a group of people from St. Louis came to protest local school closings and cuts, although that won't be an issue during the veto session.

The scene at the Missouri Capitol on Wednesday was harried, the hallways filled with various groups with an agenda to sell. There were signs, colored shirts and chants. Law enforcement officers, who were much in evidence throughout the day, estimated the crowd at 1,000 people -- the majority anti-abortion advocates.

Gov. Bob Holden vetoed the abortion bill because he said it restricted a woman's right to an abortion. But the House voted Wednesday to override his veto, sending the measure to the Senate for an expected vote Thursday.

"I support anything that legislators can do here in Missouri to maybe change a woman's mind concerning an abortion," said Vince Michalak, of St. Charles, who like other abortion opponents wore a red shirt to symbolize life.

Gathered on the south lawn of the Capitol, hundreds of anti-abortion advocates listened to Christian music and Bible readings. Those in House galleries erupted in applause as the successful override vote was announced.

At the north portico of the Capitol, people supporting Holden's veto of the abortion bill gathered in much smaller numbers, although they said that was no indication of a lack of support for the governor. Holden addressed about 75 supporters, many of whom wore shirts with the slogan: "Do The Right Thing ... Sustain."

"The idea that any woman would have to wait 24 hours after going through a consultation and screening process and signing a consent form to have a legal medical procedure is an insult to all women," Holden said.

Holden vetoed the concealed guns legislation bill because statewide voters had defeated a similar measure in a 1999 referendum. But on Thursday, the House voted to override the veto, sending the measure to the Senate.

While supporters of the concealed guns bill didn't hold an organized rally, several said Missouri should join 44 other states that allow concealed guns in some fashion.

"The citizens of Missouri have a right to defend themselves against criminals who already have guns," said Stuart Strickland, a member of the National Rifle Association from Williamstown in northeast Missouri.

The potential key vote in the Senate on concealed guns, GOP Sen. Jon Dolan, of Lake Saint Louis, is serving with the U.S. Army in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and it was unclear Wednesday whether he would be able to return to Missouri for the Senate vote.

A group of about 200 people from St. Louis marched on the Capitol accusing the St. Louis school board of targeting schools in predominantly black neighborhoods for closure. School officials said the schools were chosen based on academic achievement, occupancy rate, physical shape and whether they have air conditioning.

Rodney Anderson, a 56-year-old pipefitter for the St. Louis schools, said that it was unfair that his job could be targeted by the cuts just two years shy of his retirement.

"I am here today because I want to bring attention to the issue," Anderson said. "There are so many things wrong about this situation. I am angry."

Despite all the activity, House Speaker Catherine Hanaway said that on issues like abortion and guns, rallies do little to affect lawmakers' votes.

"There's no changed votes on matters of principle," said Hanaway, R-Warson Woods. "I think what they do is show members how much support there is for an issue."

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