Monday, June 23, 2008

Will CIRM Directors Fulfill Prop. 71 Promises?

SAN FRANCISCO -- The California stem cell agency is maintaining a "watch" position on legislation aimed at pushing it into compliance with a state law that could mean hundreds of millions of dollars for California businesses.

At issue is a requirement in Prop. 71 – ballyhooed during the 2004 campaign – that CIRM set standards to ensure that the recipients of nearly $3 billion in grants purchase goods and services from California suppliers "to the extent reasonably possible."

Those standards still have not been set, nearly four years after creation of the stem cell agency. Because of the delay, some biotech companies and lawmakers pressured the agency earlier this year to move more rapidly. To make it clear that they were serious, legislation was introduced setting the standards in state law in the absence of CIRM setting its own standards through regulation.

That bill, AB 2381 by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-San Mateo, has easily passed the Assembly and is now before the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday, where it is virtually certain to pass.

On Friday, the Legislative Subcommittee of the CIRM board of directors discussed Mullin's bill, ultimately deciding to continue to watch its progress. The discussion was a bit muddled because Mullin proposed changes in the legislation only a few days before the Friday meeting. They involve a "five-year threshold" for suppliers, but no text of the proposed changes was available at the San Francisco CIRM headquarters. One Sacramento-area teleconference location, however, seemed to have a copy of the latest proposal. No members of the public had access to the Mullin changes.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein said a five-year threshold for suppliers would discourage companies from moving to California as well as putting new companies at a disadvantage.

CIRM director Susan Bryant, from a teleconference location at UC Irvine, read other suggested "supplier" language from the University of California system. Again, no text was available at the meeting site at CIRM headquarters.

Meanwhile, it was disclosed during the meeting that James Harrison, outside attorney for CIRM, has begun work on separate standards for suppliers and grant recipients involved in the agency's $1.1 billion lab construction effort. Speed is critical in that effort because recipients are required to complete their lab buildings in two years or face penalties.

Later this week, CIRM directors will address the supplier questions during their meeting in Burlingame, Ca. No background information or text of what they are to consider is yet available to the public on the agenda for the meeting, which begins in two days.

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