Friday, November 08, 2019

Survival of the Financially Strapped California Stem Cell Agency? It Can Write Its Own Ballot Initiative

Directors of the California stem cell agency --- some of whom are not happy with a proposed $5.5 billion ballot initiative that would rescue the agency -- have a choice: They can write their own ballot measure. 

The agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), is permitted under state law to draft its own ballot initiative, a provision that escaped notice at the governing board's meeting last week. 

It was during that session that the dissatisfaction among some CIRM directors  surfaced significantly. A number of board members expressed reservations about the proposed ballot initiative, which would make major changes in the agency's operations. "Not helpful," was one characterization. "Handcuffs" was another. 

Another meeting was called for a week from today (Nov. 15) to consider the $5.5 billion proposal, which has a deadline of Nov. 18 for making changes. Any alterations can only come from Robert Klein, the sponsor of the initiative and the first chairman of the 15-year-old agency. 

Not discussed last week's board meeting was a sentence in a legal memo prepared by James Harrison, the former general counsel of the agency. In addition to the memo, Harrison briefed directors with a slide presentation on the restrictions on the use of public funds to support a ballot initiative. The sentence said,
"However, a public agency may conduct research and draft a ballot measure because these activities are not aimed at persuading voters."
The California Stem Cell Report this week queried Jeff Sheehy, one of the less-than-pleased CIRM directorsfor a comment on the possibility of pursuing an alternative to the Klein initiative. He said in an email:
"I have to admit that I had no idea that CIRM could draft its own ballot measure. I am surprised that this option was not brought to the board earlier. I think CIRM drafting its own ballot measure is a great idea and we should start this process as soon as possible, assuming that the rest of the board supports doing so."
 (Update: In response to a question, Art Torres, vice chairman of the CIRM board, said following initial publication of this item today, 
("The agency could write its own initiative but no power to place it on the ballot or circulate it for signatures. I think the meeting on Friday is the best way to collect recommendations to pass on." )
Harrison made it clear last week that running a campaign is illegal for CIRM. Someone from outside the agency would have to step in to do that as well as raising the tens of millions of dollars needed to place it on the ballot and conduct the campaign.

CIRM, meanwhile, is running out of the $3 billion that voters provided it in 2004 and will have to start winding down next year unless voters provide it with more cash. The most obvious source has seemed to be the ballot measure offered up by Klein, a Palo real estate investment banker who also directed the writing of the initiative that created the agency in 2004.
Time is running out for initiatives for the November 2020 ballot. A lengthy signature gathering process is involved in addition to an array of statutory requirements. 

However, an initial draft of a measure -- sort of a placeholder -- could be submitted quickly after a sponsor stepped up. The measure could be fleshed out and refined during the 30-day comment period with revisions made after that period closes.

In another possible scenario, Klein could withdraw his current initiative if he needs time to consider changes desired by the board. A new proposal then could be drafted and submitted for fresh ballot certification. 

Supporters of the agency could also go to the state Legislature and ask lawmakers to place a funding measure on the ballot. That would involve some major political obstacles and negotiations. So far, CIRM directors have not been inclined to move in that direction.

Here is a link to additional legal discussion of how local California governmental agencies can engage in drafting a ballot initiative and placing it on the ballot.  Sphere: Related Content

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