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Backers of Oklahoma's shelved personhood bill vow to seek to revive it

A polling of Oklahoma House Republicans in a closed meeting later Monday still shows members do not want Senate Bill 1433, the so-called personhood bill, up for a floor vote at this time, a spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele says.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: April 24, 2012

Several lawmakers and church pastors vowed Monday to revive the personhood bill, which was shelved last week when House Republicans privately voted against having it heard on the House of Representatives floor.

But a polling of House Republicans in a closed caucus meeting before the House adjourned Monday evening again showed members do not want to bring Senate Bill 1433 up for a floor vote at this time, a spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele said.

House Republicans, who have a 66-32 majority, were polled again by the whip system, in which members are asked privately how they would vote on a particular bill.

“The decision was made by the caucus collectively with incredibly deep respect for life and for the statement the bill makes,” said John Estus, a spokesman for Steele, R-Shawnee. “This was not a decision made by Speaker Steele individually, and claims otherwise are false. Speaker Steele will continue to take direction from the caucus on this issue as he does with other issues.”

Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, who called a news conference Monday with about a dozen lawmakers and pastors, said he would pursue other avenues to get SB 1433, which states life begins at conception, heard by Thursday night's deadline.

Rep. Mike Christian, a frequent critic of Steele, said Steele should be ousted if he doesn't bring Senate Bill 1433 up for a hearing on the House floor.

“He's a tyrant,” said Christian, R-Oklahoma City. “We need to put it on the board and put a vote on it and let the people see where we stand. And again, if he doesn't want to do that, then we take another step forward in the next couple of weeks to remove him as speaker.”

Pressure has been growing on Steele since he announced late last week that the bill would not be brought up for a vote on the House floor.

Steele, a Southern Baptist preacher serving as interim senior pastor at a United Methodist Church in Shawnee, said he would have voted for the measure, but he was following the decision by a clear majority of the House Republican caucus.

Leaders with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, which represents the state's 1,800 Southern Baptist churches, are urging House members for a public vote on the measure. The Senate passed the measure 34-7 in February.

Some House members might have been confused during last week's whip polling, said Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia. They may have thought that a similar measure might still be alive. House Bill 1571 states that life begins at conception; it passed the House last year by a vote of 74-2 but failed to get a hearing in the Senate, and no action has occurred on it this year. It is considered dead according to Senate rules because it failed to pass out of a Senate committee earlier this year.

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