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Senate Filibuster Continues

May 04, 1999
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 427

JEFFERSON CITY - The ongoing partial-birth-abortion filibuster passed the 30 hour mark in the State Senate Tuesday, in a bizarre day of debate and historical rarity.

Columbia Senator Ken Jacob once again led the stall calling for a health exemption for mothers in the proposed ban on late-term abortions.

"If a woman can't make a decision about her health, how can we call this a free society?" Jacob asked in the debate.

The historical rarity arose after Sen. Jet Banks, D-St. Louis, offered an amendment to the bill. When it came time for a vote, Banks was nowhere to be found. Debate ceased for over an hour while senators searched for their missing colleague -- an opponent to the bill.

Under Senate tradition, a vote cannot be taken on an amendment while the sponsor is not present. Thus, in a historic move, the remaining body petitioned to bring Banks' amendment to an immediate vote. This ending of debate, or cloture, is the first of its kind since 1982.

Ironically, it again was Banks using the same tactic that triggered the 1982 motion.

The ensuing vote defeated Banks' health exemption amendment, 22-11, with Banks not voting. Banks' missing car was later found parked at the Ramada Inn.

Cloture also could be used to defeat the filibuster, but even the most avid supporters of the bill say they do not want to undermine the Senate tradition of allowing filibusters -- when they are conducted within the conformity of what senators view as proper.

Talking for ever about anything under the sun is, by the Senate's way of seeing it, is proper. Just walking away is not.

Gov. Mel Carnahan has warned he would veto the bill if it does not contain a health exemption for the mother -- as he did in 1997. That veto was sustained by just one vote. Votes this year leave it unclear whether Carnahan's veto would be sustained.

Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles County, said bill proponents had been flexible regarding all the opponents' demands, but they would not budge on the health exemption.

"The health exemption just destroys the bill," said House, who is handling the bill in the Senate.

The long debate, while providing rich newspaper copy, may cost other legislation, especially late in the session.

"I hear a noise, senators," said Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence. "It is the noise of bills dying on the calendar -- budget, appropriations, health care bills -- after thirty hours of useless debate."

If the legislature doesn't pass the budget by Friday at 6:00pm, the governor would have to call them into a special session for the second time in three years to deal with a budget that got stalled over abortion.

"I'm sorry we'll have to be in special session, the budget won't get done, some important bills won't get passed, but we're talking about a woman's freedom," said Jacob, a Democrat.

Legislators whose bills are "dying on the calendar" often pressure the sponsor to pull his filibustered-bill off the floor, so their proposals can get a vote.

Often during the debate, as few as five senators were on the floor. Constant quorum calls metered the debate and doormen were continually on the move to summon absent Senators.

"Where's all the other senators?" asked Cliff Graham, a visitor from Bowling Green. "Aren't we paying these people to do their jobs?"

Graham, a farmer, was watching the Senate in action, hoping helpful farm legislation would come up for debate. That legislation is buried on the calendar behind the filibuster.