by Steven Ertelt
February 27, 2006
Sacramento, CA (LifeNews.com) — Hearings in the lawsuits filed against the California committee in charge of distributing funds for embryonic stem cell research begin Monday. Pro-life and taxpayer groups have filed lawsuits challenging the legality of the committee and saying it has violate state conflict of interest laws.
The lawsuits target the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which was expected to start handing out the first round of grants in what will eventually cost taxpayers $3 billion, not including interest.
The People’s Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation, both taxpayers groups, filed one of the lawsuits and are represented by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, a pro-life law firm.
The second lawsuit was filed by the California Family Bioethics Council, a bioethics watchdog group.
According to the lawsuits, the committee has violated a state constitutional mandate requiring state government oversight for any spending of taxpayer funds. The committee was authorized by Proposition 71 to spend money without any government approval.
"The act delegates the disbursal of huge sums of public money to the unfettered discretion of an institution whose governing board and working groups are unaccountable to the public," one of the lawsuits said, according to an AP report.
The agency was expected to give $300 million annually for 10 years to scientists conducting embryonic stem cell research, which has yet to help a single patient, and human cloning. However, the lawsuits have been successful in holding up the grants because the bonds issued to raise the money could be worthless if the committee loses in court.
The delay in issuing grants has turned back plans by some universities in the state to recruit embryonic stem cell researchers from across the world.
Stanford University had hoped to attract the husband-and-wife research team of Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins. They turned down the offer and went ti Singapore instead.
"We had hoped we would be able to get funding from the stem cell institute," Copeland told AP. "But without that money available that would have been very difficult."
In November, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw ruled the lawsuits should not be dismissed even though they were holding up the committee from issuing the grants.
Regardless of the decision Sabraw issues in the case, both sides are expected to appeal, continuing the delay in issuing the grants.
Some observers expect the stem cell research committee to prevail in part because it has issued some reforms in response to criticisms that may make some of the issues moot.
Klein is hoping to secure more donations to keep the panel going through 2006 and has relied on a $3 million loan from the state and a $5 million donation from audio magnate Thomas Dolby.