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Abortion Focus of Veto Session

September 06, 1995
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - "We've been keeping in contact with the legislators." This, word-for-word, is about all that spokesmen on both sides of the debate will say about the work they've done over the summer on the abortion bill the governor vetoed last May.

The bill, which would require a woman to prove she has been offered counseling before she could get an abortion, will be the the top issue before the legislature's veto session that convenes Sept. 13.

It is one of five bills from last spring's session vetoed by the governor.

But there's a legal dispute as to whether the legislature has the legal authority to override the abortion veto during the fall veto session.

The state constitution provides that the veto session is held in the fall to consider bills vetoed by the governor in the last five days of the session and also bills vetoed after the legislature adjourned.

However, it does not clearly specify when an override can be considered for a bill vetoed earlier in the session - such as the abortion bill that was vetoed eight days before the session ended.

Chris Sifford, spokesman for Gov. Mel Carnahan, said that as far as the governor is concerned, the bill is dead - that last spring was deadline for any override effort. "But we've been preparing for every contingency," Sifford said.

Carnahan has been speaking with several senators over the last several weeks about their votes, Sifford said. But he would not say to whom the governor has spoken to or what they discussed.

The bill's supporters dispute the governor's legal claim. The argue the legislature has authority to consider an override in the veto session or even when the legislature reconvenes in January for its 1996 regular session.

"It all depends on how you interpret the Constitution," said Louis DeFeo, the lobbyist for the Missouri Catholic Conference who works closely with the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County.

DeFeo said he assumes they'll make an override effort during the veto session. Schneider declined immediate comment on their plans.

To be successful, an override will require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.

The bill passed the Senate 25-6 - well above a two-thirds majority.

However, the margin in the House was 98-52 - 11 votes short of a two-thirds majority.

And since then, some Democratic Senators who voted for the bill have indicated they would not vote to override a Democratic governor's veto.

In fact, on a test vote of the override question during the closing days of the regular session, anti-abortion forces lost five of their Senate supporters - dropping them below the two-thirds needed for an override.