Voters Could Decide 7 Ballot Initiatives In 2010

Measures range from restrictions on stem cell research to banning of affirmative action programs

"I think the legislature has to have some authority to examine what is being done in life sciences research." -- State Sen. Jim Lembke (click for larger version)
08/28/2009 - Area residents could face cramps in their writing hands if they start signing all of the initiative petitions for upcoming ballot issues. The issues range from affirmative action, to real estate taxes, to stem cell research.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced that seven initiative petitions, four relating to stem cell research, one pertaining to banning affirmative action programs, another to health carriers, and the last involving real estate taxation, met state standards for circulation.

Ballot initiatives would likely appear on the November 2010 ballot if they receive the required number of signatures. The ballot title for the initiative petition relating to banning affirmative action programs reads:

"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against, and improve opportunities for, women and minorities in public contracting, employment and education while continuing to allow preferential programs necessary to establish or maintain eligibility for federal funding, to comply with an existing court order, or consisting of bona fide qualifications based on sex?"

The controversial measure has such opponents as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as a number of other civil rights, church and religious groups.

The ballot measure was devised by Missouri Civil Rights Initiative's Tim Asher, a former director of admissions for North Central Missouri College. According to Asher, his admissions work was a factor in his decision to be involved in opposing affirmative action. He said his contract at the state school was not renewed after he raised questions about the college's preferential admissions policies

"The efforts to assure equal opportunity in Missouri are admirable," Asher notes on his Web site. "Discriminating against some in favor of others is not the answer. That only perpetuates unfairness and ill feeling. We are individuals and should not be reduced to stereotypes - especially by our government."

Stem Cell Ballot Fight

The ballot wording for the first two initiative petitions approved, both relating to stem cell research, read, in part:

"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to repeal current provisions approved by voters in 2006 which guaranteed Missouri patients access to stem cell therapies and cures and permitted researchers to conduct stem cell research in accordance with federal law..."

State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-South County, said he supports the ballot initiatives submitted by Missouri Roundtable for Life. He said passage of the initiatives would "clear up some fuzzy areas" as to the authority of the legislature to monitor and regulate research in the life sciences area in Missouri

The measures allow the legislature or state officials to eliminate, reduce or deny access to state funds for institutions involved in stem cell research, therapies and cures; as well as allowing them to ban or limit the access of Missourians to stem cell research, therapies and cures.

"I think the legislature has to have some authority to examine what is being done in life sciences research," said Lembke. "But in some ways, the whole question of embryonic stem cell research is becoming moot, because science is moving on to some more successful, alternative medical cures that do not involve such research.

"This does not change my basic position against embryonic stem cell research and my concern for moral issues involved," Lembke added.

Jim Goodwin, a spokesperson for Missouri Lifesaving Cures, said it's likely state residents are tired of the stem cell research battle. He said the issue was decided by voters in 2006 to allow scientific research for cures for cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes and spinal injuries.

"It's all more of the same from Missouri Roundtable for Life," said Goodwin. "They want to repeal the constitutional protection for stem cell research that was passed by voters. They want to prevent state residents from having access to the care they should be allowed to receive.

"If you support the ongoing search for cures for diseases, you will pass by the people with these petitions," added Goodwin. "We consider the search for cures to be the true pro-life position. Members of Missouri Lifesaving Cures are involved in an important pro-life endeavor."

Goodwin said he's not sure how his group will respond to petition efforts by the Missouri Roundtable for Life.

"This group has filed 28 petitions since January 2008, and nine have been approved for signatures," said Goodwin. "We are in the process of trying to figure out just what that want and what they actually might go with. In any case, we will be working to protect research in the area of health and curing diseases."

Some legislators, at both the state and federal level, are expressing concern over the increasing number of issues facing voters. They contend the plebiscites are diminishing the decision-making power of legislators.

"As a legislator, I take great pride in going to Jefferson City and making the tough decisions that people have asked me to do," said Lembke. "On the other hand, people have a right to have their say by initiative petition in our democracy.

"What does trouble me is the millions of dollars that are used so often to influence and manipulate people in these votes," added Lembke. "Also, in the legislature, bills are vetted in committee - moved through the houses. We examine the language and the repercussions. It can be a time-consuming process to pass a bill, but sometimes slower is better."

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