IN APPROVING Proposition 71 last year, Californians agreed to invest $3 billion of public money in stem-cell research.
It is entirely reasonable for taxpayers to demand that the people making decisions on the distribution of that money be free of conflicts of interest. It is also only fair for taxpayers to expect that this project, if as successful as we all hope, should provide at least a modest return to the public treasuries.
However, the proposition itself did not provide anything close to adequate assurances that this state-financed project would be conducted in an open and forthright way, or that it would produce a public benefit.
Sen. Deborah Ortiz, a Sacramento Democrat who was an early supporter of stem-cell research, has been pushing the governing board of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine to tighten its conflict-of-interest rules and to make a commitment to make treatments, therapies and products that result from these state-issued grants available and affordable to low-income residents.
Ortiz has been making progress, mostly because of her proposed ballot measure, SCA13, which would etch those "sunshine" and share-the-wealth requirements into the state constitution. She said she would drop her measure if the stem-cell policy-makers would make a "bona fide, good faith" -- and binding -- commitment to what we believe are the noble concepts in her measure.
So far, they have not. Instead, they are trying to kill SCA13.
The Ortiz bill breezed through three Senate committees, but now it has encountered a strong crosswind from the pro-71 forces who say they want to consider such rules on their own timetable and own terms.
We think this is the perfect time to lay out clear and enforceable guidelines for the people who will soon be distributing our tax dollars. The Senate, which may take up SCA13 as early as today, should approve it. As Ortiz observed, "If this bill doesn't get off the Senate floor, my leverage to achieve these reforms goes away."
Advocates of state-supported stem-cell research should be doing everything possible to make sure this enormous outlay of public money is handled with the utmost integrity. The goals of Ortiz's measure are consistent with the expressed spirit of Prop. 71 and, if anything, will enhance public confidence in the venture. They should either be locked into place by the stem- cell group itself or voted into law at the ballot box.
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