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State Senate Overrides Veto of Divestment Bill

By Jacob M. Schlesinger

Supporters of a bill requiring the divestment of all state pension funds from firms doing business with South Africa are fighting to keep the measure alive before the legislative session ends today.

After a two-hour debate dragging past midnight, the Senate early this morning voted 23 to 5 to override Gov. Edward J King's veto. The House of Representatives is expected to consider a similar proposal today.

Sen. Jack Backman (D-Brookline) predicted after the vote that backers also had the necessary two-thirds vote in the House to secure an override.

If that happens, Massachusetts will become the first state in the nation to sell all its holdings in companies with operations in South Africa.

Snowball Effect

"I hope this is the beginning of a snowball effect all over the country," Backman said.

Even if the lower chamber does not get to the bill before adjourning, another version will be introduced in the next session. Gov.-elect Michael S. Dukakis is considered more favorable towards the legislation than his predecessor.

This last-minute push to save the measure calling for the sale of more than $100 million in securities marks the culmination of a four-year campaign. Stopped in every previous session, the bill easily passed both chambers by voice votes last December.

King was expected to sign it but sent the bill back to the legislature in mid-December with some proposed amendments. "There is little question but that the moral foundation underlying this legislation is one which compels the support of the democratic peoples throughout the world," he said.

But the governor raised questions about the financial impact if S.B.984 became law. He said that the blanket divestment would cost the Commonwealth about $15 million by selling quality stock.

King Raised Questions

He proposed imposing the policy only for companies that do not adhere to the Sullivan principles--a voluntary code of ethics drawn up for American businesses involved with South Africa.

The legislature summarily rejected the amendments, and on December 29, King vetoed the bill.

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