Initiative To Fund Stem Cell Research Qualifies for November Ballot
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (D) on Thursday certified for the Nov. 2 statewide ballot an initiative that would raise an average of $295 million annually to promote stem cell research through the issue of state bonds, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/4). Supporters of the initiative submitted more than one million signatures to qualify the measure, more than double the required number (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/4). The measure, which was drafted by Los Angeles-based advocacy group Californians for Stem Cell Research and Cures, would provide funds for a new stem cell research center at a University of California campus, as well as grants and loans for laboratory projects at other colleges (California Healthline, 4/19). Under the initiative, a 29-member citizens oversight commission appointed by the governor and state legislators would distribute the funds, with priority given to stem cell research that is unlikely to qualify for federal funding. As much as 10% of funding could be allocated to the construction of research facilities for not-for-profit organizations (Ingram/Rau, Los Angeles Times, 6/4). The bond measure's supporters hope to build 12 to 15 new stem cell research centers with the funds raised.
The initiative is intended to be self-funding. Repayment from the bond principal and interest would be deferred for five years. The state could benefit financially by receiving tax revenue on additional jobs created by the measure, and it would benefit from any patents or royalties that result from the research, the San Jose Mercury News reports. If approved, state funding on embryonic stem cell research would "far surpass" the annual federal budget for such research, which is set at $17 million per year, according to the Mercury News (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 6/4). The initiative would specifically prohibit any research involving the cloning of humans and certain other forms of cloning.
The initiative's supporters include "prominent scientists and research institutions," including University of California-San Francisco and Stanford University Nobel laureates and officials from about 40 disease and patient advocacy groups who say the measure could "put California in the front ranks of one of the most promising new fields of medicine, generating jobs and tax revenue even before the research pays off in terms of new treatments for such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson's and spinal cord injury," the Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/4). Treasurer Phil Angelides (D) said the measure would be a "win-win for California" because it would generate new jobs and increase tax revenue for the state (San Jose Mercury News, 6/4). He added, "To grow an economy and to solve health problems, you have to be willing to step up and make investments" (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/4). "California has the opportunity to be the only state in the country with the biotech research capacity to carry out substantial national stem cell research," Robert Klein of Klein Financial, a major supporter of the measure, said.
Some opponents, including the Catholic Church, say the initiative would sponsor research that is "immoral because in some experiments, days-old [human] embryos are destroyed," the Mercury News reports (San Jose Mercury News, 6/4). "You can't take a stem cell out of an embryo without killing it, and the embryo is the earliest form of human life," Carol Hogan, communications director of the California Catholic Conference in Sacramento, said. She added, "The people promoting this are manipulating victims of chronic diseases and spinal cord injury and other injuries into believing the cure is just around the corner, and that is absolutely not true." Other opponents include groups that say the initiative would be cost prohibitive and that the state cannot "afford to gamble on an unproven technology that has yet to cure anything" when resources should be devoted to other health-related programs "with more immediate payoffs," the Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/4).
In other ballot measure news, the following health-related initiatives have qualified for the Nov. 2 ballot:
- SB 2: A referendum to repeal SB 2 has qualified for the ballot (Los Angeles Times, 6/4). SB 2, which is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, will require some employers to provide health insurance to workers or pay into a state fund to provide such coverage. Under the law, employers with 200 or more employees will be required to provide health insurance to workers and their dependents by 2006 or pay into the state fund. Employers with 50 to 199 employees will have to provide health insurance only to workers by 2007. The law will exempt employers with fewer than 20 employees. The law also will exempt employers with 20 to 49 employees unless the state provides them with tax credits to subsidize the cost of health insurance for employees (California Healthline, 4/13).
- Hospital construction: A $750 million bond measure that would pay for construction, expansion and equipment for children's hospitals has also been approved for the ballot.
- Mental health: A measure to increase by 1% the state personal income tax on individuals whose annual incomes exceed $1 million to finance an expansion of mental health services has qualified for the ballot (Los Angeles Times, 6/4). The measure would raise an estimated $700 million annually for mental health care for people with severe mental illnesses (California Healthline, 1/12).
- Emergency services: An initiative to add a 3% surcharge to telephone bills to fund hospital emergency services and training has qualified for the ballot (Los Angeles Times, 6/4). The initiative would raise taxes on residential and cellular phone bills to generate an estimated $550 million annually to fund emergency department services. The measure also would cap the tax at 50 cents per month for residential customers (California Healthline, 4/13).
Summaries of recent broadcast coverage on the initiative are provided below.
- KQED's "The California Report" on Friday reported on the initiative (Myers, "The California Report," KQED, 6/4). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.
- CBS' "Evening News" on Thursday reported on the initiative. The segment includes comments from Hogan; director Jerry Zucker and producer Janet Zucker, who are "spearheading" the National Stem Cell Research Coalition initiative; and their daughter Katie Zucker, who has type 1 diabetes (Whitaker, "Evening News," CBS, 6/3). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
Additional information on SB 2 is available online. This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.