Human cloning ban clears committee
By Allen Palmeri
February 22, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – After an emotionally charged four-year journey, the bill to ban human cloning/embryonic stem research in Missouri sponsored by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit and a deacon at First Baptist Church, Raytown, has finally made it out of committee.
Senate Bill 160 was passed 7-2 Feb. 14 in the Senate Judiciary Committee when Sens. Carl Vogel, R-Jefferson City, Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau and Chris Koster, R-Harrisonville, voted with Sens. Bartle, John Loudon, R-Ballwin, and Victor Callahan, D-Independence. Pro-life activists said personal lobbying through notes, e-mails and phone calls by Christians helped stabilize the wobbling quartet of swing senators who could have toppled the bill.
“They chose to go with the grassroots, not the big business,” said Kerry Messer, lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission of the Missouri Baptist Convention. “Every Missouri Baptist needs to be writing thank-you letters to all seven of these senators who stepped up and voted correctly.
“We didn’t know if we were going to get the engine started on this issue. Right now, not only is the engine running but it’s purring beautifully. A 7-2 vote is greater than what we had expected. This bill was tenuous at best in its position just a week ago, and Missouri Baptists responded within the broader coalition that has been formed to defend righteousness. If it weren’t for Missouri Baptists being responsible with their Christian citizenship, this would have never happened.”
Bartle emerged from the Valentine’s Day vote at the head of a bipartisan Senate coalition that is motoring toward a floor debate. He and his 17 co-sponsors on the bill constitute a majority in the chamber, if they can keep it. Within that eclectic group are 30 percent of the Senate’s Democrats.
“I think that the co-sponsors of this bill are still in an information-gathering mode,” Bartle said. “I think everybody that’s anywhere near this issue understands that we’d better be extraordinarily careful with what we do, and that they have a personal obligation to acquire as much information as they can before they make their decision.
“I’m encouraged that seven members of this committee, many of whom were really struggling, have decided to vote in favor of the bill. I’m encouraged by that. But I guess I haven’t come to the conclusion that that’s going to necessarily be the way the rest of the Legislature views this.”
Gov. Matt Blunt, a pro-life Republican who attends Second Baptist Church, Springfield, is on record stating he would “likely veto” the bill, Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson said Feb. 17. Jackson acknowledged a comment the governor made to that effect at a Feb. 4 Capitol press conference, but Jackson noted the governor’s remark should not be construed to mean he will absolutely veto the bill. On Feb. 14, a Kansas City Star reporter cited Blunt’s position and questioned whether SB 160 would even be brought before the full Senate.
“This is going to be brought up on the floor and it will be debated on the floor,” Bartle replied.
Rodney Albert, chairman of the Christian Life Commission and pastor of Hallsville Baptist Church, said Missouri Baptists must stand firm within the ad hoc coalition of pro-life organizations seeking to pass SB 160. The simple way to do that, Albert said, is to stand alongside a faithful Missouri Baptist deacon who is risking political annihilation by pushing this issue.
“There were some great Missouri Baptists who got involved with this issue,” said Albert, referring to the many unsung heroes of the CLC network who worked to hold Sens. Vogel, Mayer, Crowell and Koster accountable for their vote. “Rather than finding something else to do, they were faithful to contact their senators and to state their convictions. We’re confident that was helpful in persuading these senators to vote the way they did.”
For example, an aide to Mayer said that dozens of constituents in an overwhelming majority flooded their office with requests that the senator vote yes. Mayer is a deacon at First Baptist Church, Dexter.
Missouri Baptists ought to support Bartle, Albert said, because he is essentially preaching that the procedure detailed in SB 160 is wrong. In a previous interview, Bartle told The Pathway that he is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who processes the bill through his personal walk with God.
“There’s no easy way to go,” Bartle said. “There’s no exit ramp on something like this.
“Either way these senators (in committee) went there are immense political consequences. This is one of those no-win situations for people in the Legislature. It doesn’t matter which way you go, somebody is going to be extraordinarily angry with you. Those are the kinds of decisions that obviously try the souls of people in public office.”
Bartle said press coverage of the human cloning positions of President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger for president in 2004, Sen. John Kerry, helped give SB 160 the impetus it needed to get out of committee after three years of failure at that level in the General Assembly.
“I think the presidential campaign had an immense impact in bringing this issue to the forefront, but then also, the pace of the science is so dramatic,” Bartle said. “In England, there was a report recently that the scientist that cloned Dolly the sheep seeks a license to clone a human being. People read about these things and it has a way of moving these issues closer to the front of the line.”
Of the 18 senators on record supporting the bill, 15 are Republicans and 3 are Democrats. Counting Crowell and Koster, who had the opportunity to vote against the bill Feb. 14 but failed to do so, a 20-14 floor vote for passage is possible, but Bartle noted the concern in Koster’s voice right before the moment of truth in the Senate Lounge. With one vote down and six to go in a long legislative march to land the bill on the governor’s desk, Bartle predicted a perilous battle. Amendments and filibusters may be launched from any number of Senate Republicans and Democrats.
Research institutions, economic development groups and health advocacy groups are all lined up against Bartle, the Kansas City Star reported. The senator described this phenomenon as “nearly every lobbyist in this building (is) employed to defeat this bill.” And on top of all of that, within his own political party he has the governor and the top two leaders in the Senate—President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, and Majority Floor Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph—either on record opposing him or at best remaining neutral on his bill.
Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, and Sen. Charles Wheeler, D-Kansas City, voted against the bill in committee. Under the rules of the Senate, any one senator who chooses to follow the example of someone like last year’s Senate Democratic Leader, Ken Jacob, can talk a bill to death.
“You figure the odds of this bill passing,” Bartle said philosophically.
If it does, and if a gubernatorial veto is either averted or overrode, Missouri will become the sixth state to ban human cloning/embryonic stem cell research. Michigan, Arkansas, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota all have statutory bans in place.