Will the third time be the charm for reform in California?

Posted by Jesse Reynolds February 8, 2007
Biopolitical Times
Sen. Sheila Kuehl
Many of the shortcomings of California's stem cell research program can be traced to its enabling law, which is deeply flawed. Passed by the voters as Proposition 71, it contains numerous exceptions to the norms of oversight, accountability, and transparency. But according to Capitol Weekly, legislative reform of Prop 71 is planned for the third year in a row. But this time, a new chief proponent and the passage of a sunset date have changed the outlook for reform.

Sen. Sheila Kuehl will be spearheading an effort to amend them this year. In short, she and her Republican cosponsor, George Runner, plan to introduce two pieces of legislation. One would alter the composition of the agency's governing board, by including two representatives of public interest groups. The other would strengthen the state's claim on a share of financial returns from any profitable discoveries made with public funding. Both ideas are worthy of support, and the bills' language should be available within a couple weeks.

Sen. George RunnerIt's encouraging to see Kuehl, a progressive Democrat known for her sustained effort for universal health care, take on the mantle of reforming the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Former senator Deborah Ortiz, who was recently term-limited out, tried to repair Prop 71 in each of the last two years. But she ran up against the law's three year prohibition on legislative modifications and ruthless opposition from the CIRM's leadership. Now Kuehl, who inherited the chair of the Senate Health Committee from Ortiz, and George Runner, the cosponsor, need to get merely 70% of both houses and the governor's signature: quite a daunting task.

The new spokesman for the CIRM praised the Legislature's input, in general, but declined to comment on the proposals until the language has been released and reviewed. This is quite a contrast to the reaction to Ortiz's efforts, which ranged from "The Legislature is not needed" to calling Ortiz "an ongoing threat." The CIRM leadership should be judged by its actions, which we'll soon see, and not by its lofty rhetoric.