Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Comes Early for Sen. Ortiz

The Korean stem cell scandal is a bit of political gift to California state Sen. Deborah Ortiz.

While it certainly was not something she was hoping for, the hoo-ha surrounding Hwang Woo-suk has created an atmosphere that will aid Ortiz' efforts to tighten oversight of the California stem cell agency, protect egg donors and ensure that California reaps the benefits of its $6 billion research investment.

Ortiz, a Sacramento Democrat who is the most influential California legislator on stem cell matters, authored legislation earlier this year to protect egg donors. Public awareness of the bill was minimal, and it was vetoed, with little notice, by the governor.

Ortiz plans to re-introduce the measure come January. It will have a much more favorable environment given the heightened awareness created by the Korean cash-for-eggs affair, which involved egg donations from junior researchers as well. That is considered improper by some.

Her proposed constitutional amendment, SCA13, will also gain support as a result of the Korean scandal. The measure would increase state oversight of the agency and is intended to provide more benefits to California from research commissioned by CIRM. It requires a two-third vote of both houses and voter approval. But the proposal has key Republican support, which should help ease its passage in the legislature.

Ortiz is undoubtedly going to exploit – directly or indirectly -- what one observer has called the "flabbergasting" disclosures coming from Korea to bolster support for the proposal, which has been opposed by CIRM and its allies.

Term limits will force Ortiz out of the legislature at the end of 2006 so she has a limited time to accomplish her legislative objectives. She is reportedly eyeing a statewide office and also needs a solid record to campaign on.

Earlier this year – prior to the Hwang affair – Ortiz indicated that stem cell matters were at the top of her agenda.

"I have about a year left in the Legislature, but this will probably be my No. 1 priority.  The stakes are too important if we don’t meet the intent of the initiative, and if we don’t make good on the promises we made to the voters," she said during a hearing on intellectual property and CIRM.

Look for a major push by Ortiz after the turn of the year that will involve PR, op-ed pieces, public appearances, support-building among stem groups and more. Sphere: Related Content

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