Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Constitutional Questions Raised on Sweeping Changes at the California Stem Cell Agency

The outside counsel to the governing board of the California stem cell agency is preparing an opinion on whether some of the major changes recommended by the blue-ribbon Institute of Medicine(IOM) study might require a vote of the people.

More than three years ago, the same issue was raised  and used by the agency to resist unwanted changes.

Kevin McCormack, agency spokesman, said today that James Harrison of Remcho Johansen & Purcell of San Leandro will perform the analysis. Harrison has been counsel to the CIRM board since its inception. He also wrote part of Proposition 71, which created the stem cell agency in 2004.

Harrison's analysis was disclosed after CIRM Director Sherry Lansing, who is also chairwoman of the University of California Board of Regents, said this morning that the board's "hands are tied" concerning some of the IOM proposals because they could require a vote of the people. Other members of the board bristled at the IOM recommendations.

In 2009, Harrison tackled a similar task in connection with related, proposed structural changes at the $3 billion stem cell research effort. In reaction to proposals by the Little Hoover Commission, the state's good government agency, Harrison said,
“The Little Hoover Commission’s proposals would effect drastic and disruptive changes to CIRM’s governance and operating systems. Such changes run counter to the voters’ intent, and do not further Proposition 71’s purposes.”
The California Stem Cell Report wrote at the time, 
"The 10-page legal memo hung most of its arguments on a provision in Prop. 71 that states that it can only be amended by the legislature if the changes 'enhance the ability of the institute to further the purposes of the grant and loan programs.'
"Harrison's memo said the Hoover proposals (in question) could only be enacted through another ballot measure...."
The Little Hoover proposals dealt with the structure of the board and the conflicting responsibilities of the president and the chairman. The IOM has recommended major changes in both areas and approvingly cited the Hoover study .

Harrison's analysis will also delineate which IOM recommendations can be implemented by board action and which will require legislative approval.

The IOM report, which cost the stem cell agency $700,000, recommended a host of changes that critics for years have said are needed. But the 17-month study also went beyond what the critics had proposed. The IOM said that the 29-member governing board should be stripped of power to approve individual grants. Instead, the board would be limited to voting for or against a slate of applications.

The IOM also proposed far-reaching changes to remove conflict of interest problems, clean up a troubling dual-executive arrangement and fundamentally change the nature of the governing board. The recommendations would greatly strengthen the role of the agency's president, significantly alter the role of patient advocates on the governing board and engage the biotech industry more vigorously.

CIRM's governing board and its first chairman, Robert Klein, an attorney who directed the writing of the stem cell initiative and wrote parts of it, have mightily resisted related proposals. In 2009, Klein even warned of lawsuits if legislative action were initiated for reforms (see here and here). 

In an editorial todayThe Sacramento Bee said changes are long overdue at the agency. The Bee said CIRM has "been consumed by a siege mentality that has prevented any real introspection.”  In another editorial earlier this week, the San Francisco Chronicle said that prompt and major changes are needed at the agency.

Many of the more significant recommendations clearly require either a rare, super, supermajority vote of the legislature (70 percent) and the signature of the governor or another ballot initiative, which is very unlikely. Achieving the 70 percent vote is exceedingly difficult except on the most noncontroversial matters before the legislature. The requirement permits only 13 members of the 40-member Senate to block any CIRM legislation, giving minority viewpoints extraordinary power over the content of any CIRM legislation.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog