Thursday, August 10, 2006

Proposal to Tighten CIRM Oversight Coming Up Next Week

Sweeping legislation to tighten oversight of the California stem cell agency is likely to come up before the state Assembly Appropriations Committee in the middle of next week, its last stop before it would reach the Assembly floor.

To be enacted, the bill (SB401) by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, must be approved by the committee, pass the Assembly and then the Senate, before going on to the governor for his action. If he signs the measure or allows it to become enacted without his signature, it would then be placed on a statewide ballot – not this fall – for voter approval.

Given the governor's $150 million bailout of CIRM, it seems more likely that he would veto Ortiz' legislation. But speculating on what may happen while he is running for re-election is fraught with pitfalls.

The bill is opposed by CIRM and some in the biotech business, although most of the opposition was registered prior to the latest amendments, one of which removed a provision to place the measure on the fall ballot. Other amendments basically conformed the measure's IP policy to what CIRM has already approved.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein was not apparently satisfied with the position of his agency on the measure last spring. He wrote a harshly worded letter circulated nationally concerning the bill. Klein described Ortiz, a longtime supporter of stem cell research including Prop. 71, as an "ongoing threat" to that entire field of science. CIRM refused to comment on the letter, which Klein wrote as head of Americans for Stem Cell Therapies and Cures, a political advocacy group headquartered in his Palo Alto office.

Patient advocate Don Reed of Hayward, Ca., earlier this year began a letter-writing effort against the measure. However, at the moment it does not seem at the top of his agenda, based on a look at this web site,

Ortiz' amendments have not yet caught up with the official version of the bill on the Web, but are likely to do so before it comes up either next Wednesday or Thursday.

Here are links to the Klein letter, a discussion of its "facts," and a background statement from Klein's group.

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