Saturday, February 23, 2008

CIRM Conflict Problems Behind Latest Stem Cell Bill

A state lawmaker says her new legislation aimed at the California stem cell agency was triggered in large part by breaches of the agency's own conflict-of-interest policy by the agency's directors.

Reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune today reported that Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, said that the bill's requirement for a review of CIRM by the state's Little Hoover Commission was aimed at finding possible solutions to some of the problems that have generated a separate state investigation and audit.

The Little Hoover Commission is a nonpartisan state agency aimed at improving efficiency and performance of state government. In addition to studies, it can conduct public hearings and offer up legislative solutions.

Somers wrote:
"'Those (reviews) are directed at things that have happened,' Kuehl said yesterday. 'What I want to do is look ahead to see if there are necessary fixes.'"
Somers continued:
"Kuehl said her decision to look at the potential for conflicts of interest arose after learning that several grant applications to the institute had to be disqualified because members of the institute's board had written letters in support of the applicants."
The conflict cases involve John Reed, president of the Burnham Institute, and the deans of five medical who intervened on behalf of potential grants to their organizations, which is a violation of CIRM ethics policy.

Kuehl told Somers that a Los Angeles Times editorial urged reconfiguration of the CIRM board, but that following discussions with CIRM, she agreed that directors with expertise brought "the best understanding." Kuehl said,
"I'm really looking for solutions that will protect the public interest but not throw the baby out with bathwater in terms of expertise."
Late yesterday, CIRM released a statement from CIRM Chairman Robert Klein concerning the Kuehl bill, SB1565. It said,
"Last week we had highly productive discussions with Sen. Kuehl and similar discussions with Sen. (George) Runner and we believe we should be able to arrive at satisfactory language that advances the mission of Prop. 71."
CIRM directors have adamantly opposed legislation similar to SB1565 in the past. Klein's statement was carefully crafted to avoid saying anything directly about the latest bill and leave open the possibility of defusing it with some sort of action by CIRM itself.

Here is a link to the text of the bill, which is not yet available online through the legislature. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights put up the copy. Sphere: Related Content

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