In her latest effort to reform California's $3 billion stem cell research institute, state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, has introduced SB 401, a proposed ballot measure that seeks to close gaps in Proposition 71, the 2004 initiative that created the stem cell agency.
By our measure, Ortiz's bill doesn't go far enough. It doesn't require scientists reviewing multimillion-dollar grants to disclose publicly any interest in companies that could benefit from those grants. Such a requirement should be the bottom line for any changes in Proposition 71.
Fortunately, there is time to improve this legislation before it comes before the Assembly. The bill, however, has had one positive effect: It has prompted Robert Klein II, the institute's chairman and Proposition 71's author, to concede that initiatives are a poor way to make policy.
Klein made the comment on an early version of Ortiz's bill: "This is legislation that creates an initiative. So if this is passed, you can't even, if there's an error in it, you couldn't even change it with legislation. You have to go back to the voters with an initiative. So it's not just what's being attempted, but the form of what's being attempted."
We couldn't agree more. When Klein shepherded Proposition 71 onto the ballot, he bypassed the Legislature. He now oversees an agency that is unaccountable and sidetracked by lawsuits and controversy. Had he been more patient and more willing to work with the Legislature, he might have launched a stem cell program that -- during a period of flush budgets -- would already be dishing out research grants.
It is too late to turn back the clock, but Klein and his oversight committee can, and should, take steps this summer to ward off a legislative battle. The institute just finished taking public comment on rules for conflict of interest procedures. Several public interest groups want the institute to require grant advisers to publicly disclose their financial holdings.
When it meets today in La Jolla, the oversight committee should begin discussing such a change. That would do much to ensure the integrity of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine and put it on a less contentious path.
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