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Gov. Brad Henry's stem cell veto stirs new fight

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry says he'll veto bill restricting embryonic stem cell research.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: April 23, 2009 at 8:51 am •  Published: April 23, 2009
Republican legislators are poised today to attempt an override of the Democratic governor’s veto of a bill that would have made it a crime for a scientist to perform any form of embryonic stem cell research.

Gov. Brad Henry waited until after the House adjourned about 11 p.m. Wednesday to veto House Bill 1326. He waited out legislators Wednesday night to give him and bill opponents such as business leaders and health care providers more time to persuade lawmakers to sustain his veto. Wednesday was the deadline for the governor to veto the bill.

Henry, lobbied by the Oklahoma City and Tulsa chambers of commerce to veto the measure, said there were misconceptions about the bill. Although proponents billed it as a "pro-life” measure, HB 1326 does not address abortion in any manner or save a life, the governor said.

"It’s important to point out that this legislation does nothing to stop an abortion or save a single life, but it does threaten life-saving research and unjustly criminalizes scientists who perform important work, the very kind of research that is supported by pro-life conservatives like former first lady Nancy Reagan,” Henry said.

Rep. Mike Reynolds, the House author of the bill, said he believes the Republican-run Legislature has the votes to override the veto.

"We’ll hope that those people that were defending life when we originally passed the bill will stay and continue to defend life,” said Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City.

A two-thirds vote of each legislative house is needed to override a veto. Two-thirds is 68 in the House and 32 in the Senate. The House passed the measure, 82-6; the Senate passed it 38-9.

House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said the governor is wrong to veto the bill "under the cloak of darkness in order to prevent an immediate override attempt.”

"Oklahoma is a pro-life state, and its citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to research that would result in the death of an unborn child,” Benge said.

Because it is a House bill, an override would have to start in the House. An override attempt is expected today in the House.

Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said he suspects he has enough votes for an override, but who is in attendance after Wednesday night’s session would be a key factor whether an attempt will be made today. "It’s an attendance-driven determination,” he said.

Senate Democratic leader Charles Laster of Shawnee said Wednesday night he hadn’t had a chance to tally Democratic senators.

Henry said he’s prepared to fight any override attempts.

"This is a critical issue for the future of this state, and I think it is important that any veto override attempt occur in the light of day so all Oklahomans can see their lawmakers at work,” Henry said.

Democratic House leader Danny Morgan said the governor called Democratic and Republican House members Wednesday asking them to sustain his veto.

"You’ll see a lot of Democrats who will be voting to sustain the governor’s veto,” said Morgan, of Prague.

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