Hearing Addresses Operations at California Institute of Regenerative Medicine
Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) on Wednesday chaired a hearing on the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the agency created by Proposition 71 to oversee California's stem cell research program, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/10).
Proposition 71 was "specifically written to avoid meddling by the Legislature" for three years, but Ortiz called for the hearing and at least two future meetings to hold committee members "accountable" and to offer "guidance and direction in setting policy," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
CIRM Chair Robert Klein did not attend the hearing, but CIRM Interim President Zach Hall was present (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/10). Lawmakers urged Hall to encourage the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the 29-member panel overseeing the agency's creation, to consider strict conflict-of-interest rules and open working group meetings (Benson, Sacramento Bee, 3/10).
In addition, Ortiz asked Hall to guarantee that ICOC would consider a policy that would make all drugs and therapies created through CIRM's research available and affordable to all Californians (San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/10).
Hall said decisions on most substantive issues involving operating policy would be made by Klein and ICOC members. "I'm just trying to get the science going," Hall said, adding, "We believe that working with the Legislature is necessary to our success" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/10).
ICOC "is deeply committed to the principles of transparency and public meetings in all cases other than those in which specific open meeting law exemptions apply," Hall said. He said exemptions to public meeting rules were necessary to allow the review of individual grant applications to be done behind closed doors to protect applicants' work from being prematurely released to the public. He said that NIH uses similar practices (Elias, AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/10).
Vince Brown, chief operating officer of the Office of the Controller, also testified at the hearing (San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/10).
Despite provisions of Proposition 71 related to legislative modifications, Ortiz said that legislation to alter Proposition 71 could be enacted before the three-year period specified by the ballot measure, according to the AP/Contra Costa Times (AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/10).
Ortiz has introduced a bill that would require taxpayers to share profits from state-funded research and mandate greater financial disclosures by ICOC members. Ortiz said she would like to reintroduce her bill as a constitutional amendment to avoid complications from the stem cell law (Sacramento Bee, 3/10).
However, Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California-Berkeley, said, "Deborah Ortiz is kind of hamstrung by the fact that there is explicit language in the proposition that prevents the Legislature from futzing with it" (AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/10).