Court Challenges Could Delay Stem Cell Institute for Months
Constitutional challenges to the creation of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine could delay plans to issue the first research grants in May, Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) on Monday said in briefs filed with the state Supreme Court, the Sacramento Bee reports. The briefs mark the first time the state has "admitted ... that the constitutional challenges could halt" the distribution of grants in May (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 3/15).
Taxpayer organizations and groups opposed to stem cell research filed two legal challenges on Feb. 22 with the state Supreme Court to immediately stop CIRM -- created by Proposition 71 -- from distributing funds.
The Life Legal Defense Foundation, a lawyer group that opposes stem cell research and abortion rights, filed one lawsuit alleging that Proposition 71 improperly distributes $3 billion in public funds without legislative oversight. Two taxpayer groups, People's Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation, are listed as plaintiffs in the suit.
The second suit, filed on behalf of the not-for-profit group Californians for Public Accountability and Ethical Science, alleges that Proposition 71 violates the single-subject rule for propositions by allowing funding for types of research other than stem cell science. The suit also claims that the initiative breaches conflict-of-interest laws by requiring each member of its oversight committee to be chosen from universities, research foundations, disease advocacy groups and biotech firms that could benefit financially from stem cell research (California Healthline, 2/23).
Lockyer said CIRM cannot sell bonds or issue grants until both lawsuits are resolved. Lockyer added that both suits have "no merits."
According to the brief, "Because Proposition 71 is funded exclusively by bond proceeds, blocking issuance of the bonds by filing a constitutional challenge -- even a challenge that is ultimately judged to be without merit -- is an extremely effective way to prevent implementation of Proposition 71."
The brief urges the court to make a decision quickly.
Fiona Hutton, spokesperson for CIRM, said that the agency believes the case will be decided in a "timely manner," adding that the agency will continue to hire staff and establish procedures.
Catherine Short, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, said she was pleased that the state agreed to have the Supreme Court hear the case, noting that the court has decided similar cases in two to three months.
People's Advocate CEO Ted Costa said CIRM and the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, CIRM's formative group, should "go in" to the Legislature and the governor to ask for oversight so they can pass constitutional muster" (Sacramento Bee, 3/15).
In related news, cities must deliver their bids to host CIRM headquarters by Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Ten Bay Area cities are competing for the institute, including San Francisco, San Jose and Emeryville. San Diego is "thought to be the [Bay Area's] most formidable competition," according to the Chronicle. Los Angeles and Sacramento also are competing to host CIRM.
Finalists could be announced as early as March 25. The site search committee then will hold a public hearing on the proposals on April 4 and will recommend a favorite and a second choice to ICOC on April 22. ICOC will consider the recommendations on May 6 (Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/13).
In related news, officials from the University of California-Davis, are planning a major expansion of laboratories and personnel to increase the university's capacity for stem cell research, the Sacramento Bee reports.
UCD's proposal includes several new facilities because federal regulations require research on all but federally selected colonies of stem cells to be conducted separately from federally funded research. Officials said they will request "tens of millions of dollars in grants for facilities alone," according to the Bee (Lau, Sacramento Bee, 3/13).