Pro-life organization against state bond issue for university

Sunday, May 2, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- When it comes to mobilizing support or opposition on a particular issue, Missouri Right to Life is among the most adept of Capitol lobbying groups. The group's latest target is a proposed $350 million bond sale to fund capital improvements at higher education institutions.

Although campus construction usually doesn't have much bearing on MRL's opposition to abortion and other matters they believe threaten the sanctity of life, the group is concerned with the bond proposal's emphasis on promoting life sciences research within the University of Missouri system.

In a letter sent to senators Thursday, MRL president Pam Fichter and general counsel Jim Cole complained that bonding legislation the Senate gave preliminary approval to Wednesday contains no specific prohibitions against building facilities that could be used for research related to human cloning, embryonic stem cells and other areas of scientific study the group finds morally objectionable.

"Missouri Right to Life opposes the Senate bill as it is now written in the strongest terms and to the utmost of its energies," the letter says. "Missouri Right to Life considers the vote on final approval of the Senate bill as one of the most important votes on a life issue that any senator will ever cast."

Usually a supporter of MRL's efforts, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said he was "blindsided" by the opposition to the bill, which he is sponsoring.

"Along with many other pro-life senators, I'm more than a little put out by my friends with Missouri Right to Life on this issue," said Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. "After championing pro-life causes during my entire 12 years in the Senate, I didn't see this coming."

During a recent meeting with the group's lobbyists, Kinder said they made no mention of concerns about the bill. Kinder said a minor, two-word change made by another senator during floor debate was done at the behest of MRL.

"I thought we had addressed the matter to their liking," Kinder said.

To build broader legislative support, the bill has moved beyond Kinder's original focus to include projects for nearly all public colleges and universities. Some of those projects have little or no connection to life sciences research.

Southeast Missouri State University would get $17.5 million from the bonding revenue for the renovation of Johnson, Magill and Rhodes halls, which house the school's mathematics, science and agriculture programs.

Kinder said MRL's opposition could cause problems for the bill but that the biggest obstacle to passage is the end of the legislative session on May 14.

Motorcycle donors

Although she opposes repealing the requirement that motorcycle riders age 21 and over wear helmets, state Rep. Vicki Walker, D-Kansas City, predicted one positive result from the idea.

"I actually like this bill," Walker said mockingly. "I think it will increase organ donations."

Another opponent of optional helmets, state Rep. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph and a practicing physician, cited an old doctors' joke: "Buy your kid a motorcycle for his last birthday."

Proponents of freedom of choice, however, won the day as the House endorsed sending the helmet law repeal to the Senate 96-43.

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