[Latest news: Senate votes to override vetoes.]
JEFFERSON CITY — Two of the most divisive bills in Missouri in the last decade lie in the hands of the Missouri Senate today. Much of the action depends on the presence or absence of Sen. Jon Dolan, who also is an officer in the Missouri Army National Guard stationed in Cuba.
Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, has quickly become the key player in Senate Republicans’ effort to override Gov. Bob Holden’s vetoes of a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and the right of Missourians to carry concealed weapons.
The House passed veto overrides on both bills Wednesday.
“There is no possibility of an override of the concealed weapons bill without him,” Republican Floor Leader Michael Gibbons said.
On Wednesday, the first day of the veto session, the senator’s office said Dolan was doing what he could to get back, although Republican leaders said they had not heard from Dolan.
“I don’t know what his status is,” Gibbons said. “I’m sure he was waiting to see what the House did before he irritated his superior officers.”
Even if Dolan returns in time for the second day of the veto session, Republicans may face a filibuster from the Democratic opposition. Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said, “If he’s going to be here for a short time, we may take advantage of that.”
President Pro-Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said he remains confident that the Senate will override the abortion bill veto without Dolan.
On the House side, onlookers watched from the packed visitor galleries as legislators voted to override Holden’s most controversial vetoes. Despite the crowded atmosphere, debate among lawmakers was relatively dispassionate.
Holden’s vetoes on the abortion and concealed weapons legislation were overturned by wide margins.
“It’s always a disappointment to see legislation you disagree with pass,” said Vicki Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, “but there were no real surprises.”
Two-thirds of the chamber, 109 votes, is required to overturn vetoes. The abortion and concealed weapon overrides passed with 120 and 115 votes, respectively. Wilson and Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, both voted to uphold the vetoes. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, abstained from voting.
Despite the significant margins, there was debate on the floor before the final votes.
“Twenty-four hours is worth the life of a child,” Tom Self, R-Cole Camp, said.
Wilson said that because of the shortage of abortion providers in Missouri, 24 hours turns into several weeks. As a result, abortions are moved back, which decreases the safety of the procedure.
“We are not reducing the number of abortions with this legislation,” Wilson said. “What we are doing is putting women at greater risk.”
The House voted on six other vetoed bills Wednesday, but failed to override any of the vetoes.
The most highly debated was a bill involving child abuse and foster care. The bill would extend background checks for potential court-appointed guardians and open records of abused children to the General Assembly.
Senators voted along party lines during their veto session, causing the first round of veto overrides to fail. The bills addressed reworking workman’s compensation, creation of a small business regulatory agency and changes in agri-business tax law.
Gibbons showed little surprise over the outcome. “I don’t think even the sponsors had any reasonable belief the bills would pass.”