Friday, June 17, 2005

No Nasty Fall Election on Stem Cell Agency

Californians are not likely to get another chance this fall to vote on the California stem cell agency, which is a probably a good thing.

It would have been a nasty tussle, although there is a very slim chance that a ballot measure might emerge. As we noted in an item earlier this year, it would not have been in the best interests of the agency to have what basically amounts to a vote of confidence on CIRM.

This fall's election is likely to draw high participation from the right and far right, which would mean strong opposition to stem cell research. A ballot measure would have created a bully pulpit for foes of the program, and, regardless of the election outcome, the agency would have been savaged.

For now, the issues behind SCA13 will move forward in the form of a forthcoming letter to the agency expressing concerns of Democrats in the legislature.

News that the measure by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, has been put aside was broken by reporter Kevin Yamamura of The Sacramento Bee. The Associated Press did a brief version of the piece which then appeared on other newspaper web sites. But it appears that no other major California newspapers have matched Yamamura's story.

Instead of bringing SCA13 to a floor vote, he reported, "Democrats in the upper house...agreed to send a letter to the oversight committee insisting that the panel take action on its own by its July 12 meeting.

"Ortiz said lawmakers have agreed to pursue SCA13 if the oversight committee does not take action that resolves the Legislature's concerns. The letter being drafted would note that the Legislature could pursue SCA13 for the June 2006 ballot, though Ortiz still wants to leave open the possibility of putting the proposal before voters in November. She said she believes the Legislature has until August to put SCA 13 on the November ballot, if necessary.

"Ortiz had lined up support for SCA13 from the 15-member Senate Republican Caucus, but she needed at least 12 Democrats to sign on to the proposal to meet a two-thirds vote requirement.

"'There were a handful of (Democratic) members ready to support me on moving this off the floor," Ortiz said. 'But many others requested that we hold it, position it for June '06 and in the meantime send a fairly comprehensive letter outlining the policy concerns and acknowledging a desire by the Democratic caucus to move this forward in the future.'

"Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said last week after a lengthy caucus meeting that Senate Democrats were in support of SCA 13, but he said there were strategic concerns about placing it on the November ballot.

"Ortiz described those concerns as 'mainly, how we can anticipate the messages that will be conveyed in the election and whether our resources, time and messaging should be prioritized to defeat initiatives problematic to Democrats.'"

Yamamura quoted stem cell chairman Robert Klein as saying, "We look forward to reviewing the letter and have benefitted greatly from the input of Sens. Perata, Ortiz, Dunn, Speier and their staffs, among others."

David Serrano Sewell, a member of the Oversight Committee and of the agency's legislative subcommittee, said he expects the stem cell panel to take some action on regulations by its July meeting. The legislative panel meets Monday to discuss changes in regulations.

Serrano Sewell said of Ortiz, "She has had a profound influence on the committee. We were going to make these changes, but if we have this (Ortiz proposal) out there, we're more motivated to do it. The issues she has raised are important."

However, the agency has record of strong opposition to Ortiz' issues, dating back to shortly after last fall's election. Technically it is possible later this summer for Ortiz to place a measure on the ballot should the agency be recalcitrant. But the position of the Democratic caucus is that they have more important political fish to fry in this fall's electoral battle with the governor.

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