Friday, April 04, 2008

CIRM Bill Moves on in California Legislature

Legislation aimed at California's unprecedented $3 billion stem cell research effort this week easily cleared its first hurdle -- as expected.

The measure by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, now moves on the state Senate Judiciary Committee, where it is likely to win approval as well. Kuehl is part of the Senate leadership and chair of the Senate Health Committee, which unanimously approved her bill, SB1565, on an 11-0 vote. Co-author of the bill is Republican George Runner of Antelope Valley, who is part of the GOP Senate leadership.

The legislation is designed to provide affordable access to therapies developed with taxpayer funds and correct problems associated with conflicts of interest at CIRM.

The legislative staff analysis of the bill said that its authors believe
"...that, given CIRM/ICOC's unique formation as a public entity, the level of public investment--$3 billion in bond funds that will amount to a General Fund expenditure of $6 billion (including interest), and the close-knit nature of the scientific community, CIRM and the ICOC should be thoroughly scrutinized by an independent body to ensure the highest level of public trust and confidence."
CIRM has opposed similar legislation in the past, but according to John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog, the group formerly known as the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, CIRM is now taking a more measured stand.

Simpson, who attended the hearing earlier this week, reported:
"CIRM's Interim Director of Legislative Relations Sue North told the Senate Health Committee, 'We have no formal position on the bill and hope to resolve any differences administratively.'"
Simpson opined on the Consumer Watchdog blog that the CIRM position marked an improvement from the days when CIRM Chairman Robert Klein declared that one legislator who was also a longtime supporter of stem cell researcher was an "ongoing threat" to CIRM.

Consumer Watchdog supported the CIRM legislation but said it did not go far enough. Simpson said,
"We need a provision that allows the state attorney general to intervene if drugs or therapies funded by the stem cell agency are priced unreasonably. We've seen too many cases where companies benefit from publicly funded research and then set prices at obscene levels. They act like socialists when seeking research funding but are greedy capitalists when there are profits on the table."
Also supporting the measure were American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the California Alliance for Retired Americans, California Nurses Association, Center for Genetics and Society, Gray Panthers, Greenlining Institute and the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research
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