Wednesday, December 09, 2009

CIRM Wants to Exceed the Legal Cap of 50 on Staff

The California stem cell agency wants to hire more staff, exceeding the 50-person legal cap approved by voters when they passed Prop. 71 in 2004.

CIRM President Alan Trounson told CIRM directors this afternoon that he wanted to hire an additional five to 10 persons. He said,
“We don't want to get in the situation where we can't do the work properly.”
Currently, CIRM has approved more than 300 grants worth more than $1 billion, which it must monitor. It is slated to give away another $2 billion over the next few years, including more grants involving businesses.

Because of the cap, CIRM has been forced to rely heavily on outside contractors and is currently spending about $3 million annually on their services. That amounts to the second largest category in its operational budget, with salaries and benefits at the top.

It was not clear how CIRM can circumvent the 50-person cap without going to the state Capitol. A change would appear to require 70 percent approval of the legislature and the signature of the governor. Such a super, super-majority requirement, another provision of Prop. 71, is extremely rare in state government.

We asked CIRM spokesman Don Gibbons by email how CIRM plans to work around the legal limit. He replied that the method has not been determined

If CIRM asks for legislation, other areas at CIRM could become the subject of attention from lawmakers. Deals may have to be cut.

Other provisions written into Prop. 71 have troubled CIRM. One of those is a supermajority requirement (65 percent) for quorums. Tonight, for example, the CIRM board is operating without a quorum and thus cannot take legal action.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this item incorrectly said that no other state laws require a 70 percent vote to change them. In fact, two other adopted initiatives have an 80 percent vote requirement. A few other initiatives as well do not permit legislative changes under any circumstances.)

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