Political intrigue surrounds MOHELA bill;
MBC concerned about trusting the courts
Cloning in publicly funded buildings eyed, but seems
to be ‘off the table’
JEFFERSON CITY – Pro-life lawmakers in early February pondered ways to prevent a scenario where public money from the sale of student loans would be used to promote embryonic stem cell research in facilities that are a part of the governor’s Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative for building projects on public college campuses.
Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin and a pro-life stalwart, is handling the bill backed by Gov. Matt Blunt and the Republican majority seeking legislative approval for the deal between the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA) and the Missouri Development Finance Board so more than $1 billion in student loans can be sold to raise $335 million for the campus building projects.
The Missouri Development Finance Board has approved an arrangement that attempts to prevent embryonic stem cell research from being conducted in buildings erected with the proceeds from the loan sales. As reported by the Columbia Daily Tribune, even though Amendment 2, approved by voters in November, would appear to have cleared the way for such research to be done in those types of facilities, the statements emanating from the Republican majority leaders who are falling in line with Blunt and Nodler on this bill are that no one would press for cloning and that any contradictions eventually would be resolved in court.
“This bill recognizes the contracts and resolutions of all the parties, which include specific language consistent with the existing anti-cloning language that’s in statute,” Nodler said. “So none of the parties have an interest in doing embryonic stem cell research.
“The idea that someone might litigate would suggest two things. First, you’d have to have somebody to file a suit in order to challenge the law, and one would question who that would be. The University of Missouri isn’t going to file a suit because they’re one of the agreeing parties, and folks like Stowers Institute and Washington University are potentially competing embryonic research facilities and again would have no interest in opposing the desire of the state of Missouri to not use these resources for this purpose. So I think that’s a red herring. That is not a valid basis on which to oppose the bill.”
Kerry Messer, lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), is uneasy with the idea that the bill needs to be passed so that judges can be trusted with the mission of protecting pro-life interests. He does not believe that judges are the citizenry’s best option in this case. A better way would be to postpone passage of the bill in the General Assembly until after the courts have had a chance to sift through the judicial fallout of Amendment 2, he explained.
“The spin can be dizzying,” Messer said. “MOHELA supporters are actively searching for arguments to neutralize pro-life opposition. The newest apologetic hinges on the scope of Amendment 2’s application.
“Because only state government and its political subdivisions are insulated from government restrictions against human cloning research, it is argued, the structure of MOHELA as a ‘private’ corporation holds the construction and use contracts beyond the reach of the constitution. Under this view, MOHELA’s private contract, prohibiting offensive research, would hold if challenged in court. However, the fact that MOHELA was created by state government, even as an incorporated entity, places its relationship to the state into an area of uncertainty. Who makes that determination? The courts.
“Just last year, Missouri courts already set a precedent, ruling MOHELA to be a government body whose private board meetings violated the state’s Sunshine Law—a law only applicable to governments and not to private corporations.”
One of the leaders in a House effort to oppose the bill will be Rep. Belinda Harris, D-Hillsboro and a member of Morse Mill Baptist Church. Harris chairs the 29-member House Democrats for Life Caucus, and while she cannot confirm that all of those members are with her on this bill, she is reasonably confident that an eclectic coalition has a chance to rise up and defeat the measure.
“We’re getting some people who just don’t like the idea of messing with the student loans, and that’s what I think the public is seeing more of,” Harris said.
The difficulty in opposing the MOHELA bill, she said, is that it is being promoted as an economic development bill that will help the state begin to build the so-called Interstate 70 life sciences corridor. The bill has been described as complicated and wide-ranging in that it involves nearly a third of a billion dollars in revenue to be poured back into the state economy. Part of the good is that it is intended to be for more scholarships.
“It makes you feel kind of funny if you’re not supporting that,” Harris admitted.
But Harris cannot support the bill, she said, because she is pro-life. In her view if it passes, lawmakers will then lose their ability to place restrictions on spending taxpayer money on unbiblical human cloning experiments that would take place up and down the life sciences corridor.
“Selling MOHELA is not just a simple little thing,” she said. “It’s a big deal. There are too many things tied into it that could cause a lot of grief later on.”
Harris was encouraged when the governor chose to not call a special session in order to push this bill through.
“It showed that things weren’t going exactly his way,” she said.
Another encouraging development took place Feb. 7 when pro-life senators on the Senate Education Committee rose up to cut $113 million out of the bill for six university facilities where embryonic stem cell research could take place.
Defeating the bill is another matter. Harris acknowledged that the majority party will bring it to a vote whenever they think they have the votes to win, but “right now I think it’s kind of iffy.” She said her strategy and the strategy of other standing-on-principle pro-life leaders in the House is to pray about which members of the majority party to approach and persuade in these pressure-filled days.
“I think a lot of them are just being kind of quiet about it because they just don’t want the attacks from either side,” Harris said. “Those are the ones that we’re trying to talk with and work with.”
Nodler flatly stated that any pro-life legislator who takes a stand on this issue like the one Harris is taking is choosing to disregard reason.
“There is no proposal in this legislation to fund embryonic stem cell research,” he said. “None. And there is language specifically recognizing an agreement between the private parties involved in the transaction that declares that they’re not going to do that. An extreme view that attempts to inject the stem cell debate into this issue has an illogical conclusion.
“If you’re looking for a place to make an example, it’s a poor choice to try to cost the state of Missouri $2 billion in economic activity and $350 million in higher education opportunities for children and their future. If you want to pick this fight, don’t pick it at the expense of the future of the people of the state of Missouri.”
Having digested all of the rhetoric, Messer took a deep breath before detailing in precise terms exactly what launched this highly political process.
“The fight was initiated by the proponents of killing human embryos and human cloning,” he said. “They are the ones that pushed Amendment 2, through a lie, to Missourians and got it into the Constitution. All we’re doing is defending life.
“We’re uncomfortable being asked to trust government. That’s what we’re being asked here. We appreciate the fact that the (University of Missouri) Board of Curators are trying to distance themselves from this debate. We appreciate that the governor is trying (to do the same). We appreciate the legislative leaders who are trying to give us confidence, but we’re stuck in a no-win situation. We cannot trust the courts with this issue in light of Amendment 2.”