Sunday, October 13, 2019

Making Changes in a $5.5 Billion Stem Cell Matter: What California Law Permits

Screenshot from state Department of Justice "active measures" website

A  California ballot proposal to spend an additional $5.5 billion over another 10 years on stem cell research is not locked in concrete or in even locked in its dense, legal language.

It can actually be modified between now and Nov. 17 if its sponsors so desire. That may be a big if, but it is possible as a result of 2014 changes in state elections law.

Here is the way it works. Any member of public can comment or suggest changes in proposed ballot initiative between now and Nov. 12 on this state web site.  The Department of Justice will pass along the suggestions to the sponsor of the initiative. The sponsor can make changes in the initiative up to Nov. 17.

Whether changes actually occur depends on pressures brought to bear by various constituencies that have something at stake in this multibillion-dollar game. Those interests include most of the Golden State's major universities and research institutes, the biotech industry, the fledgling California stem cell industry, patient advocate groups ranging from diabetes to cancer and even national regenerative medicine groups, not to mention religious or other groups that may have ethical concerns.

Of course, suggestions do not have to be filed with the attorney general. They can go directly to Robert Klein, who filed the initiative. Klein is a Palo Alto real estate investment banker, who founded the stem cell advocacy group, Americans for Cures. He led the 2004 campaign to create the agency and served as its first chairman. Klein directed the writing of the 2004 initiative as well as the current proposal.

His group also has a scientific advisory board that includes a host of California stem cell luminaries ranging from Irv Weissman of Stanford and Larry Goldstein of UC San Diego to Leslie Thompson of UC Irvine and Arnold Kriegstein of UC San Francisco. Klein has said he consulted with them in drafting the latest ballot proposal. They may well be interested in hearing comments on what is now being offered.

The California Stem Cell Report has already heard murmurings about changes that backers of the agency would like along with similar thoughts from opponents. But the measure is quite fresh and 30 pages long. So it may take a little time for solid suggestions for changes to emerge. 

The governing board of the stem cell agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), has scheduled a meeting for Oct. 31, its first since the initiative was filed. It is expected to act on a number of awards, which are expected to be its last new awards until it receives additional funds. 

Asked last Friday whether board might make suggestions for changes in the initiative, Kevin McCormack, senior director for communications, replied via email, 
"Right now the CIRM board hasn’t taken a position on it. At some point in the future the board will discuss the initiative at a public meeting and take a position."
Here is the contact link for Klein's Americans for Cures and the email address for the stem cell agency: info@cirm.ca.gov 

Re the suggestion period and amendments to the initiative, here is the salient language from the California Secretary of State, the state's top elections official.
"Once a request for a circulating title and summary has been submitted, the Attorney General’s Office will post the text of the proposed initiative measure on their website and facilitate a 30- day public review process during which any member of the public may submit written public comments to the Attorney General’s Office via their website. The Attorney General’s Office will provide any written public comments received during the public review period to the proponent(s). (Elections Code § 9002(a).) During the public review period, amendments signed by all of the proponent(s) may be submitted to the Attorney General’s Office. Any amendments to the proposed initiative measure must be reasonably germane to the theme, purpose, or subject of the initiative measure as originally proposed. An amendment shall not be accepted more than five days after the public review period is concluded. (Elections Code § 9002(b).)"


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