Thursday, February 24, 2005

More Legislative Pressure on CIRM

The California stem cell agency is facing increasing pressure from a key California state senator on the issues of accountability, conflicts of interest and openness.

Sen. Deborah Ortiz, chairwoman of a special Senate subcommittee on stem cell matters, has beefed up her oversight legislation and announced a broad-based agenda for a hearing March 9 into CIRM.

Ortiz, a Sacramento Democrat, is no enemy of the stem cell agency. She supported Prop. 71, but has said she wants to ensure that the institute meets its public responsibilities.

Earlier she introduced legislation aimed at doing just that. This week, she amended the bill to strengthen outside review of the agency. In response to an inquiry from the California Stem Cell Report, Hallye Jordan, a spokeswoman for Ortiz, explained the changes in Ortiz' bill, SB18:

"The amendments require the State Auditor to do periodic performance audits on the Prop. 71 ICOC and Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The first audit would be due March 31, 2006. The Auditor would be required to analyze and report to both the Senate and Assembly health committees and the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by December 2006 on the progress of the ICOC and Institute in implementing the audit recommendations. If the results of that review indicate that further work is needed, additional audits would be required to be completed by June, 2007 and June, 2008.

"The ongoing audit concept is similar to that contained in AB 1959 (Chu), a 2004 bill that required periodic audits of state purchasing programs for pharmaceuticals. The argument for the periodic audits is that the size of the program and the fact that it represents a new responsibility for the state merits the ongoing review, coupled with the fact that initial implementation has been rocky.

"The audit reports would be required to investigate the following:

"(1) A review of the strategic policies and plans developed by the Institute and Committee;

"(2) A review of contracts and grants executed by the Institute and Committee;

"(3) A review of the policies and procedures put in place by the Institute and Committee regarding treatment of intellectual property rights associated with research funded or commissioned by the Institute;

"(4) A review of the decision-making procedures and policies adopted by the Institute and Committee, including procedures for open public meetings and disclosure of conflicts of interest on the part of Committee and working group members;

"(5) A review of the medical and ethical policies and standards adopted by the Institute and Committee for research funded or commissioned by the Institute and Committee."

As for the March 9 hearing, Robert Klein, chairman of the CIRM oversight committee, is scheduled to testify for 30 minutes. Also scheduled for 30 minutes is the Greenlining Institute. On tap after that are Terry Francke from Californians Aware, attorney Charles Halpern, representatives from the NIH, Pro-Choice Women’s Alliance and the National Academy of Sciences and State Auditor Elaine Howe, among others.

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