by Maria Vitale Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
June 23, 2005
Sacramento, CA (LifeNews.com) — Officials with California’s $3 billion stem cell research institute are hoping to avoid a ballot initiative that would subject them to more state oversight.
A committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is recommending tougher conflict-of-interest rules for board members as a first line of defense against the ballot proposal.
The changes recommended by the committee would require board members to give up stock in companies doing stem cell research, or else put their holdings in blind trusts. The recommendations would also mean greater public access to their meetings and information.
The recommendations are expected to be considered by the institute’s full board July 12. They appear to be a preemptive strike against a proposed constitutional amendment which would ensure that the institute’s operations are not governed by special interests. The ballot proposal is being pushed by state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, a Democrat from Sacramento.
“Our board felt it was inappropriate that a member hold stock in a company whose annual budget devoted more than five percent to stem cell research—even if that company was not applying for grants from the CIRM,” the institute’s vice chairman, Edward Penhoet, said in a prepared statement.
“We remain committed to making our policies stronger and becoming the gold standard for research funding, even if that surpasses those of the NIH or even the legislature,” Penhoet added.
Meanwhile, Californians Aware, a non-profit group that lobbies for open government, is not impressed with the recommended changes.
“There is nothing that deals with the obligations to post agendas, there is nothing that deals with the access to meeting-related records, nothing that deals with the public’s ability to address the body, nothing that deals with the consequences if the body violates these rules,” Terry Francke, an attorney with Californians Aware, told the Mercury News newspaper.
Democratic Party leaders in the state Senate have said they would delay action on Ortiz’s bill to give the institute time to change its policies. Ortiz had hoped the legislature would approve the measure by the end of the month to ensure its place on the November ballot.
Consumer groups and pro-life advocates associated with the campaign to defeat Proposition 71 filed lawsuits against the new panel. The result is that the cloning and embryonic research grants will be delayed because the sale of bonds to raise funds for grants has to be postponed.
The lawsuits filed by consumer groups People’s Advocate and National Tax Limitation Foundation, allege that the state is illegally funding the stem cell panel without being able to have oversight. The lawsuit also cites violations of conflict of interest and state open meetings laws.