JEFFERSON CITY - Rep. Bill Luetkenhaus, D-Josephville, accused Gov. Mel Carnahan and his allies Tuesday of unnecessarily calling for increased Capitol security as the legislative veto session gets underway today.
In anticipation of today's partial-birth abortion debate, bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in to check out the House and Senate chambers Tuesday. Reporters were told they would need government-issued badges to cover the session, and House staff warned that a public hallway in the building would be blocked and security guards would be posted throughout the building. It will be an a level of security not seen at the statehouse in more than 30 years.
Luetkenhaus, who sponsored the controversial partial-birth abortion bill that Carnahan vetoed earlier this year, accused the governor of spreading fears of violence in order to divert attention away from the bill.
"I believe this is an orchestrated attempt by the governor and pro-choice supporters to get the message of violence out there, instead of talking about the procedure the bill is trying to ban," he said.
Jerry Nachtigal, spokesperson for Gov. Carnahan, called Luetkenhaus's accusation "discouraging," and said the governor had nothing to do with the Capitol police department's decision to place security on a higher alert.
"I think the governor has plenty on his mind besides how many patrollers will be on the grounds Wednesday," Nachtigal said.
Capitol Police Captain Lou Tedeschi said his office requested extra assistance from area law enforcement agencies because about 5,000 people are estimated to converge on the Capitol today.
In anticipation of the expected crowd, law enforcement officials also plan to close off the south drive of the Capitol to traffic. Tedeschi said the security measures being taken are rare, but if 5,000 people do in fact show up tomorrow, it will be one of the largest crowds he has ever seen in his 20 years at the capitol.
"Both the House and Senate are taking up a controversial issue that evokes an emotional response," Tedeschi said. "We want to make sure we can provide the safest atmosphere possible for the elected officials, while at the same time keeping the areas open to the general public."
Nachtigal said discussion over the bill has been simmering since the governor vetoed it in April, and today's session will probably bring the debate to a boiling point.
"The issue has been more contentious this year than in the past, and it seems the Capitol Police see a need for extra security," he said.
Luetkenhaus, however, said the call for an increased presence of law enforcement officials was an insult to the taxpayers and people of Missouri.
"It's the third year this bill has been debated and it's the third year there's been a rally," he said. "The governor is trying to use a fear of violence as a scare tactic."
In other news, speculation regarding a possible special session has caused an uproar among supporters of the partial-birth abortion bill.
On Monday, Carnahan discussed with legislative leaders the option of calling a special session to draft and pass a compromise version of the bill. Whether there will be such a session is still unclear.
Rep. Catherine Enz, R-St. Louis County, said Carnahan wants the legislature to set the bill aside, using delaying tactics to postpone a vote so he can introduce his own version.
Some legislators say that the debate has gone on long enough.
"It is up to the governor to call a special session, but I think it would be a huge mistake for him to prolong this debate," said Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles. "We've got a good bill and we spent a long time on it in May; let's vote on it and move on to more important issues facing the state."
Candy Smith, spokesperson for the Missouri Catholic Conference, called Carnahan's latest maneuvering an act of a desperate man.
"It is clear that the governor does not have the votes to sustain his override, and he is taking whatever steps he can to ensure that the veto is not overridden," she said.
Nachtigal said the governor wants to sign a constitutional bill that bans partial birth abortion, but he is concerned because the bill does not include U.S. Supreme Court mandated exceptions.
"The governor and the majority of the legislature are interested in signing a bill that will stick," Nachtigal said, "not a test case for courts to essentially overturn Roe v. Wade."
Senate GOP Leader Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, who supports an override of the bill, said as far as a special session goes, Carnahan holds a full deck.
"The governor has a lot of cards to play, and a lot of arms are being twisted," he said. "I applaud Democrats who have resisted and have stood up for principles over party politics."