Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Stem Cell Agency Lambastes Ortiz

If the senator from Sacramento is trying to get the attention of the California stem cell agency, she did in big way on Monday.

"How dare she!" said one Oversight Committee member, Jeff Sheehy. "How dare she steal hope from the people of California."

His remarks came during discussion of the proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, that would tighten conflict of interest standards for the agency and ensure that the agency and its working groups would be subject to state open meeting and open record laws.

The Oversight Committee unanimously voted to oppose the proposal, SCA13, which requires a 2/3 vote of both houses of the Legislature and voter approval before it would become law. The committee moved its June meeting to Sacramento so it could lobby lawmakers against the proposal.

Also likely to be flooding lawmakers with their opposition are large national patient groups, some of which are represented on the Oversight Committee.

Interestingly, perhaps significantly, the opposition statement by the stem cell agency did not mention Ortiz' companion measure, SB18. Whether the agency is in support of that measure, neutral or opposed is not clear at this point. Also not clear is whether the absence of mention of SB18 is part of a bargaining ploy.

Both SCA13 and SB18, which have bipartisan support, are in the Senate Appropriations Committee and are scheduled for a hearing on Thursday. If they are approved by the committee, they then move to the Senate floor.

Ortiz has a meeting scheduled with stem cell chairman Robert Klein on Wednesday and other Oversight Committee members during the week.

The agency issued a statement following Monday's meeting that said "as currently drafted" Ortiz' constitutional amendment will" make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for scientists to do their jobs, and it will delay critically needed medical therapies."

Klein said, "We cannot understand this rush to judgment to try and get SCA13 on this fall’s ballot.”

"We need to send a shot over the bow of the Legislature," Caltech President David Baltimore, a member of the Oversight Committee, was quoted as saying by reporter Rone Tempest of the Los Angeles Times.

Ortiz told reporter Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News, "Rather than joining me and trying to find a way to put sound accountability measures into the law, they have simply attempted to create the fear that accountability is equal to opposition.''

"There is no sinister plot here," Ortiz told Terri Somers of the San Diego Union Tribune, adding that the measure would not delay any possible therapies or treatments. "This legislation does not prevent them from moving forward and issuing grants."

One critical element of opposition to SCA13 is the board's apparent belief that few scientists would be willing to present their research proposals during partially open working group sessions of the agency despite the lure of the $3 billion research grant pool. Committee members noted that the usual grant procedures elsewhere call for private sessions. However, Ortiz' measure would allow for private sessions involving intellectual property, proprietary information and matters involving prepublication confidential scientific information.

Here are links to other stories on the subject this morning: Carl Hall, San Francisco Chronicle; Sandy Kleffman, Contra Costa Times. Sphere: Related Content

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