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Stem Cell Initiative Lacks Oversight

Michael Hiltzik:
Golden State

The Now-They-Tell-Us Department, best known for the nonexistent WMDs in Iraq, has a surprise for California voters who approved the $3-billion embryonic stem cell research bond in the last election:

Don't expect state officials to have much oversight of how the money gets spent.

This realization emerges from a spat that has erupted between two supporters of the program. One is Robert Klein II, the Palo Alto real estate developer who spearheaded the $27-million ballot campaign for Proposition 71 and may become the program's first chairman. The other is state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, who first proposed a stem cell bond issue back in 2002 (for a measly $1 billion), only to find herself stampeded by Klein and other promoters of the final sky's-the-limit version.

Ortiz on Monday introduced a bill to correct the shortcomings she found in Klein's initiative. Her goal is to ensure that Californians get cut-rate access to any cures they have funded through their $6 billion in principal and interest, and that explicit guidelines are established to guarantee the state lands a share of any patent or licensing revenue.

She also wants stringent conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure rules to apply to the 29 appointed members of the board that will run the stem cell program and to all the members of the scientific committees that will review grant applications.

Ortiz's proposals struck a sour note at a conference on research grant-making that Klein's committee convened Monday in Irvine. From the podium a rattled Klein alluded to provisions in the initiative that bar any legislative amendments for at least 36 months, and thereafter allow them only by a 70% vote in both houses. "There are very clear prohibitions against legislative intervention," he said.

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