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. He said he would switch his position to support the governor.
Veto endorsementRep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, an emergency room doctor and the only House GOP member to vote against the bill, endorsed the governor’s veto. "It is unfortunate that this bill mistakenly was profiled by some as a right-to-life bill,” Cox said. "What we are really talking about is cellular biology. ... To prohibit research before we learn if embryonic stem cells can help where adult stem cells can’t seems foolish.” Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life, said he was disappointed with the governor’s decision. A key part of the bill would have prohibited the creation of human embryos through cloning for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells, he said. "A fundamental principle of medical ethics is to not experiment on a human subject without the informed consent of that human subject,” Lauinger said. "This veto violates that principle.” Medical researchers and state business leaders worked in recent days to explain what is involved with embryonic stem cell research. Scientists believe such research could yield new treatments or cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, blindness, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, spinal cord injuries and a variety of other ailments. State business and research leaders also warned that by criminalizing legitimate scientific study, HB 1326 would have an adverse effect on Oklahoma’s research community. The measure also would have discouraged research-based industries from locating in Oklahoma, dealing a major blow to long-running efforts to make the state a center of bioscience and high-technology research, opponents of the bill said.