Monday, August 11, 2008

CIRM Should Say No to Mullin Tresspass Bill

Directors of the California stem cell agency this week are scheduled to discuss legislation aimed at dealing somewhat with the recent upsurge in attacks on California researchers, including at least one of its grantees.

On the agenda for either tomorrow or Wednesday is AB2296 by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-San Mateo. It has already passed the Assembly and is now in the Senate Public Safety Committee in a heavily amended form.

It now states in part:
"Any person who enters the residential real property of an academic researcher for the purpose of chilling or interfering with the researcher's academic freedom is guilty of trespass, a misdemeanor."
The bill totals about 600 words. The legislative staff analysis is about 5,600 words, reflecting the complexities of the issues involved. (CIRM has linked on its agenda to an earlier analysis.)

While we are adamantly opposed to the domestic terrorism that has targeted researchers in this country, we cannot support the Mullin bill. Nor should CIRM.

The legislation is vague and raises major constitutional issues regarding freedom of speech. Existing law already provides a wide array of tools dealing with trespass, as the legislative analysis points out. The measure is certain to be challenged by such enterprises as the ACLU. Who knows what "chilling" a researcher's academic freedom means? And one wonders exactly why persons engaged in labor union activities are specifically exempted from the terms of the proposed law.

Instead of endorsing the bill, CIRM directors should add $50,000 to the reward in the firebombing case at UC Santa Cruz, which occurred at the home of CIRM-funded research David Feldheim. That would bring the total to $100,000. CIRM should also issue a strong condemnation of the terrorist actions and make it clear that there is no tolerance for those misguided souls who think they protect mice by endangering children and adults.

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