The California Supreme Court has thrown out two lawsuits that sought to get rid of the state's $3 billion stem cell research funding initiative. The high court refused to hear the cases, but said that its ruling won't prevent the lawsuits from being filed again, in a trial court. Both lawsuits sought to invalidate Proposition 71, approved by Californian voters last November. Meanwhile, the Maryland House of Delegates approved legislation yesterday that would provide $25 million of state funding annually for human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research.
Proposition 71 was approved by 59 per cent of Californians, allowing the state to break away from federal restrictions on human ES cell 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. However, earlier this year, two groups began legal action seeking to invalidate the measure. A 'politically conservative public interest group', called Californians for Public Accountability and Ethical Science (CPAES), said 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 contended 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, brought by the pro-life lawyers' group Life Legal Defence Foundation, argued that the California Constitution makes it clear that taxpayers' money must be under the exclusive management and control of the state. It said that the way the new initiative is set up violates that requirement.
The Supreme Court rejected both cases last week, but lawyers representing both groups have said they will probably re-file. David Llewellyn, of CPAES, said that it was 'highly likely', that some form of action will now be brought in a lower court. Bob Klein, chairman of the Oversight Committee, said: 'We would have preferred the Californian Supreme Court to rule on this litigation, but the Institute will now consider its options and take prompt action'.
The Maryland House of Delegates has approved legislation that would also provide state funding for human ES research to get around the federal funding ban. The bill, which was approved by 81 votes to 53, will now go to the state Senate, where it has been approved by one committee but is awaiting a vote in a second committee. It would set aside part of the money Maryland gets from tobacco companies for ES cell research using embryos left over from fertility treatments. The Maryland bill follows other state bills - from New Jersey, Wisconsin and Illinois - which will provide state funding for ES cell research, hoping to stave off a 'brain drain' of researchers to California.