Wednesday, February 17, 2010

California Lawmakers to Weigh Stem Cell Agency Reform

Just a few weeks after a key state panel recommended more accountability and transparency at the $3 billion California stem cell agency, a leading California lawmaker has proposed far-reaching changes in  the five-year-old organization.

The measureSB1064 by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose – would require performance audits and thorough financial and leadership transition planning at CIRM. It would alter the selection of CIRM's top leadership, ban pre-judging grant proposals and funnel any royalty revenue away from CIRM.

The proposal may well avoid the dismal fate of past legislative efforts involving CIRM. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed those bills after stiff opposition from the agency. However, the measure by Alquist(left), chair of the Senate Health Committee, contains a large carrot for CIRM: removal of the 50-person cap on the size of the organization. The cap was written into Prop. 71 in an effort to make it more appealing to voters. But now CIRM says the restriction could endanger the quality of work at the agency and wants it changed.

CIRM had no immediate reaction to the legislation. It said a formal response was being prepared and would be available later today or tomorrow. Alquist's office also had no immediate statement available.

Asked for comment, John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., said,
“Sen. Alquist's bill makes sensible adjustments to the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act including requiring transition plans for leadership changes and the end of the current bond financing. The ICOC (the CIRM board) would be wise to embrace it. I hope I'm wrong, but I predict the wagons will be circled and this will once again be portrayed as threat to CIRM's very existence.”
The measure embodies many of the recommendations of the Little Hoover Commission, the state's good government agency. The Citizens Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee (CFAOC), a sister to CIRM, last month recommended adoption of some of the Hoover suggestions, declaring that the agency needed to be more open to the public. (Both CIRM and the CFAOC were created by Prop. 71 in 2004). The CFAOC action also appeared to have triggered two newspaper editorials and a column in the Los Angeles Times deploring CIRM's lack of transparency and accountability.

Among other things, the legislation would:
  • Require grant recipients and their licensees to submit to CIRM a plan to assure affordable access to therapies developed using CIRM funding.
  • Require that all revenues resulting from CIRM's intellectual policy agreements go into the state's general coffers instead of possibly into CIRM's treasury.
  • Require development of a financial transition plan to be submitted to the governor and legislature. (CIRM has already committed one-third of its $3 billion in bond funding with another $300 million or so expected to be committed by the end of this year.)
  • Require the state controller, the state's top fiscal officer, to commission annual, independent performance audits of CIRM at the agency's expense.
  • Change the duties of the chair and president of CIRM, specifying that the chair does not engage in day-to-day management. The CIRM board would be given authority to decide the chair's responsibilities.
  • Remove nomination of candidates for chair from statewide constitutional officers, such as the governor.
  • Require CIRM to formulate a succession plan to deal with changes in its leadership. (The current chairman, Robert Klein, says he plans to leave his post in December.)
  • Reduce the terms of the CIRM chair and vice chair from six to four years.
  • Require all grant applications to go through CIRM's grant review group, which would end a pre-application triage that CIRM has been using.
  • Require that meeting minutes include voting records of each member of the CIRM board.
The Alquist bill is likely to be changed as it wends its way through the legislature. It requires a 70 percent vote of both houses, a rare and difficult requirement for any piece of legislation.

We will carry CIRM's response and statements from Alquist when we receive them. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. Stem cells are the life givers of human body. There utilization in the right way will lead to many new discoveries in medical sciences. Hope this must bring some cheer to the people suffering from deadly diseases.