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California's stem cell funding under challenge

28 February 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 297

Two groups in California have begun a legal action seeking to invalidate Proposition 71, the $3 billion dollar stem cell research funding initiative approved by voters in the state last November. The November ballot, in which 59 per cent of Californians voted in favour of state funding for human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research, allowed California to break away from federal restrictions on the research. A policy put in place by President Bush on 9 August 2001 prevents federal funds being spent on research on ES cells created after that date.

Now, a 'politically conservative public interest group', called Californians for Public Accountability and Ethical Science (CPAES), has started an action in the California Supreme Court, saying that provisions in Proposition 71, which exempt members of the newly-created California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) from some government conflict-of-interest laws, are illegal and unconstitutional. The group also contends that the ballot in which Proposition 71 was passed violated the state's laws, which require each proposition to be based on a single subject.

CIRM is governed by the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee, which has 29 appointed members, including five appointed by state Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 29 members are in charge of awarding CIRM's research grants, loans and contracts. The second lawsuit argues that the California Constitution makes it clear that taxpayers' money must be under the exclusive management and control of the state. It says that the way the new initiative is set up violates that requirement. Lawyer Dana Cody of the Life Legal Defence Foundation, a pro-life lawyers' group, who brought the started legal action, said 'the funding goes to an entity called the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee', adding 'there really is no teeth to the so-called accountability measures that are contained within the initiative language'. She added that it is problematic that the 29 members are appointed, and come from 'special-interest advocacy groups'.

Only two other members of the CPAES have been identified - one is Dr Vincent Fortanasce, who was president of the 'No on 71' campaign, and the other is Joni Eareckson Tada, a paraplegic who founded Joni and Friends Ministries in Agoura Hills. In a statement, Tada said that 'people need to get the message that this proposition is an enormous expenditure of money in a financially strapped state for human embryo research that is increasingly seen as problematic and hypothetical'. However, a spokeswoman for the CIRM said that the fact proposition 71 was passed with the majority it had shows that the majority of Californians 'felt comfortable that there was ample oversight and accountability built into the initiative'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Group Files Lawsuit to Block Stem-Cell Work
LA Times |  23 February 2005
Petitions challenge stem-cell initiative's constitutionality
San Diego Union Tribune |  23 February 2005
Suit Filed to Stop Stem Cell Institute
ABC News |  22 February 2005
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