Mo. judge OKs summary for stem-cell ballot measure

Saturday, June 20, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Missouri judge has dismissed conspiracy allegations against three state officials and approved the summary and cost estimate for a proposed constitutional amendment banning public money from going to abortion and human cloning.

Supporters could start gathering signatures to get the petition on the 2010 ballot.

The Missouri Roundtable for Life proposed the constitutional amendment earlier this year. The secretary of state's office drafted a summary and the state auditor prepared a cost estimate, but both supporters and critics challenged them.

Supporters argued that the secretary of state's summary was biased against the measure, while critics contended the original petition was improperly drafted and shouldn't have been allowed to proceed.

Cole County Judge Patricia Joyce dismissed the challenges Thursday and rejected Missouri Roundtable for Life's claims that state officials conspired to violate the sponsors' constitutional rights.

The allegations "are without merit, and rise to the level of being frivolous," Joyce ruled.

The Missouri Roundtable for Life had accused Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, Attorney General Chris Koster and State Auditor Susan Montee of working behind the scenes to improperly influence the process.

Steve Clark, an attorney representing the organization, restated those allegations Friday and said Joyce's decision was a blow to open government.

"The courts allowed ballot summaries to be decided in the boiler room," Clark said.

His clients have not yet decided whether they will appeal, he said. If they do appeal, and the summary is changed, new signatures would have to be collected to support the new language.

State officials claimed victory with Joyce's ruling.

Carnahan's spokesman Ryan Hobart said the secretary of state's office was "confident throughout the process that the judge would rule in our favor and are pleased that she found our office followed the law."

Koster's spokeswoman said there was no evidence of a conspiracy because none existed.

A spokeswoman for Montee did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The Missouri Roundtable for Life suggested ballot language asking voters to amend the state constitution "to make it unlawful to expend, pay or grant any public funds for abortion services, human cloning or prohibited human research, as such terms were defined by the Missouri General Assembly in 2003."

The secretary of state's language asks if the constitution should be amended to "make it illegal for the Legislature or state or local governments to expend, pay or grant public funds to hospitals or other institutions for certain research and services ... such as abortion services, including those necessary to save the life of the mother, and certain types of stem cell research currently allowed under Missouri law."

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