|Sacramento, the capital of California|
For the fourth year in a row, the Democratic chair of the California Senate Health Committee, currently Sheila Kuehl, and her Republican colleague, George Runner, have introduced a bill to address some of the flaws in the California stem cell research program, but none have yet been enacted into law. Judging by the relatively mild reaction this time from the leadership of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the latest may stand a chance of passage. That's saying a lot, since the proposition that created the CIRM was written to shield it from legislative oversight: It requires a 70% supermajority in both houses of the Legislature and the governor's signature for any modifications.
The bulk of the current reform bill, SB 1565, addresses intellectual property, requiring that grantees and licensees submit a plan for affordable access to any medical treatments that are developed out of the publicly-funded research. But the long-term impact of the Kuehl-Runner bill would likely derive from the briefer second section, which calls on the Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy (a.k.a. the Little Hoover Commission) to research and issue a report on how the structure of CIRM's governing board "could better ensure public accountability and reduce conflicts of interest."
The Hoover Commission has a good reputation in tackling just this kind of issue. Given that the CIRM's inherently-conflicted board is dominated by representatives of the very institutions vying for a big slice of the public funding pie, the Commission could recommend some significant changes, providing political cover for the Legislature to take real action.
But we won't know until the report is issued next year. In the meantime, There's no shortage of CIRM-related improvements that need to be made in the areas of good government and public interest. Some examples: requiring working group members to publicly disclose their potential conflicts of interest, bringing the CIRM into the normal folds of state governance and accountability, and removing the 70% supermajority requirement for amendment.
But having a neutral body examine the structure of the CIRM's governing board seems like a good place to start. The Commission's report is due out next year.
Previously on Biopolitical Times: