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Special session will focus on restricting abortion

September 02, 2005
By: Leslie Yingling
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Further restrictions on abortion will be the primary issue for debate in the special legislative session set to begin Sept. 6.

Legislators will reconsider two bills that failed earlier this year. One would make it illegal to help underage girls travel out of state to get an abortion without parental consent. Abortion opponents argue the provision would stop Missouri girls under 18 from getting abortions in Illinois, where parental consent is not required.

The second measure would require a doctor to have gynecological care privileges at a hospitals within 30 miles of where the abortion was performed.

In his proclamation calling the session, Gov. Matt Blunt said the General Assembly's failure to pass these and other provisions earlier this year was "an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare."

In addition, the governor included nearly a dozen technical corrections to legislation passed earlier this year.

The items on Blunt's special session agenda were tightly defined, but the House Speaker said he wanted to talk to the governor about raising another issue -- whatever the legislature might be able to do to expand assistants to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"We're obligated because we're Americans and they need help," he said, citing aid, education, housing and the national guard as channels of support Missouri might offer to refugees.

"We had that terrible flooding in '93 and people just opened their hearts for all of us," Jetton said in saying the state had an obligation to fellow Americans.

Spence Jackson, the governor's top spokesman, said most of that is already being done.

"We have 1,000 from the National Guard en route to help with security, and a full effort underway to provide relief," he said.

House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said he hoped Blunt would consider the Democrats' proposal for a tax cut on gas prices during the special session.

Another potential issue -- a ban on one form of stem cell research -- appears headed to the legislative ditch.

The issue was not included in the governor's special session call and the legislative leader for the ban -- Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit -- said he had not immediate plans to bring it up.

"I'm in a wait and see mode," he said. "I think the legislature just isn't yet ready to make public policy on the issue."

Bartle said he is confident the abortion-restricting legislation will pass, however.

The largest number of issues before the session involve fixing errors in legislation enacted earlier this year.

During its regular session, the legislature passed a workers' compensation law to provide basic compensation to injured workers while making it harder for employees to blame injuries on their jobs.

The final version of the bill, however, includes a provision that could be interpreted as excluding injured workers from any compensation.

The legislature also passed related laws with conflicting provisions. One bill penalizes adults who allow minors to drink or possess alcohol, while in another penalties apply only when adults are present when teens drink alcohol. Two bills were approved to limit prescription drug distribution in schools: one prohibiting people under age 18 from giving students prescription drugs, with another setting the age limit at 21.

Jetton said most of the mistakes were "words left off, drafting errors," and said he hoped that greater attention to detail would prevent them in future legislation.

Democrat Harris expressed frustration with the call to special session.

"It will cost tax payers nearly a quarter-million dollars to fix Governor Blunt's blunders," he said, based on staff estimates of a $100,000 per-week cost for a special session.

The session can last up to 30 calendar days, but legislative leaders say they're planning on a two week session.

"We hope to finish by the end of the veto session on the 15th," Jetton said. "I hope we can get in and get out," he said. "We have major things to fix."

The legislature's annual veto session to consider bills vetoed by the governor will begin September 14. This year, the governor vetoed just two bills along with several line-item budget reductions.

Also on the special session docket:

* Blunt asked lawmakers to revoke a measure passed earlier this year that prohibits posting government officials' home contact information online. That prohibition was included in a much broader, unrelated bill dealing with court procedures.

* A resolution to oppose the Army Corps of Engineers' plan for an artificial spring rise of the Missouri River. Supporters of the rise say it would benefit the river's ecosystem and aid the recovery of endangered species such as the pallid sturgeon. Opponents say the rise would adversely affect farmers whose land could see increased flooding.