California Stem Cell Research Panel Meeting Shortened After Complaint

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 17, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
December 17, 2004

Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — The first meeting of the oversight panel set up by Proposition 71 to distribute the $6 billion in taxpayer funds for embryonic stem cell research and human cloning will be cut short. The meeting’s agenda was revised in response to a complaint filed with the state attorney general saying the gathering violated the state’s open meetings law.

Yesterday, Berkeley attorney Charles Halpern crafted a letter Thursday to state Attorney General Bill Lockyer saying officials improperly set up the first get together as a "special meeting," which requires a lesser advance public notice.

Lockyer responded by advising newly-appointed members of the 29-member Independent Citizens Oversight Committee that it could be violating state law.

Instead of considering a number of organizational issues, the meeting will have members selecting a new chairman and vice-chairman before calling it a day.

And with only one likely candidate for the chairman’s slot, real estate magnate Robert Klein, who wrote Proposition 71, the meeting may not last long at all.

After meeting organizers announced an ambitious agenda, observers cried foul.

An agenda was only released four days in advance; state law requires a 10-day notice. Halpern, a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, also said organizers of the meeting also failed to allow time for public input into its decision making.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer agreed.

However, instead of postponing the meeting, the Contra Costa Times newspaper reports that state Controller Steve Westly and Treasurer Phil Angelides, who put the meeting together, advised that it be limited to selecting leaders after going round and round with Lockyer’s office about the law.

They proposed postponing other agenda items for a future meeting.

Halpern, who will attend the meeting, told the San Diego Tribune newspaper he was "delighted" that the officials eventually saw things his way.
"This approach comes much closer to the intention of the open-meetings act," he said.

Postponed discussion items, according to the Times, includes discussion of a startup loan, how best to generate revenue for the project, and the future location of the institute the proposition created.

Terry Francke of the Sacramento public-interest group Californians Aware joined Halpern in filing a complaint with Lockyer’s office.

Francke and Halpern want documentation placed on the Internet well in advance of the next meeting date describing in detail each agenda item up for discussion.

A spokesman for the state’s leading pro-life organization tells LifeNews.com he agrees with the decision to limit the meeting’s focus.

"Halpern is absolutely right to challenge the charade that this Proposition 71 Committee is ‘open’ to public input," California Pro-Life Council director Brian Johnston said.

"The actual wording of the measure allows a handful of biotech firms to pour $3 billion of taxpayer funds into any ‘project’ they choose, to channel the profits where they see fit, and prevent the public or elected officials from having any say in this," Johnston told LifeNews.com.