Capital Notebook

Capital Notebook

April 06, 2006

Governor to sign bill on stem cells today

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has scheduled a ceremony for this morning to sign a bill that would allow the state to use tax dollars for stem cell research.

Del. Peter A. Hammen, a key proponent of the legislation, said he was invited yesterday to the event by an aide to the governor. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch also have been invited, Hammen said.

"I'm just very delighted to see that the governor is signing the bill," said Hammen, a Baltimore Democrat. "The research holds so much potential in terms of finding cures for some horrible diseases."

Ehrlich proposed $20 million in funding for stem cell research next year. The General Assembly trimmed the figure to $15 million when it approved a law making Maryland the fourth state in the nation to authorize spending for embryonic stem cell research.

Funding decisions will be made by the state Technology Development Corp. with recommendations from two newly created advisory panels, one of which will be composed of scientists, the other of individuals appointed by the governor and leading lawmakers.

In 2001, President Bush restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to existing cell lines, leading to a push among some state legislatures to fill the financial vacuum. California has committed $3 billion to research, though the state's progress has been slowed by legal challenges. New Jersey and Connecticut also approved funding commitments, and other states are debating the issue.

Legislators have been debating stem cell legislation for two years. Last year, a bill died in the Senate under the threat of a filibuster. But this year, the governor announced that he was putting money in his budget for the program.

Still, lawmakers reintroduced their proposals. Their bills began as a $25 million annual funding commitment, but the mandate was stripped to win support in the state Senate. A requirement that embryonic stem cell proposals should receive priority funding also was dropped from the bill.

In an effort to placate religious conservatives, a provision was added to include two experts in biomedical ethics and religion to a 15-member commission that reviews proposals with the help of a panel of scientists. The ethicists with a focus on religion will be appointed by the governor.

Jennifer Skalka

Montgomery delegate to retire

Del. Michael Gordon, an attorney and Montgomery County Democrat who was first elected to the General Assembly in 1982, announced his retirement this week, noting "personal health issues." His last day in office will be Dec. 31.

"I have spent my career working on consumer protection and tax reform legislation," Gordon, 58, said in a statement. "I look upon the betterment of our state's tax policies in regard to fiscal responsibility, consumer accessibility and corporate tax reform as my legacy in the Maryland House of Delegates."

Gordon, who has Parkinson's disease, said that it is "with a heavy heart" that he leaves office.

Jennifer Skalka

Senate puts off voting-bill debate

The Maryland Senate postponed yesterday debate on a bill that would create a paper-producing voting system for the fall elections, dampening hopes that the state will change its voting apparatus this year.

Critics of the state's Diebold touch-screen voting machines have for years urged the state to buy an alternative, saying the current system is subject to hardware problems and could be infiltrated by hackers. The company and the State Board of Elections have defended the machines.

The House of Delegates voted unanimously several weeks ago to abandon the state's touch-screen voting equipment and switch to a one-year lease of optical-scan machines.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday that he was not sure if a paper-trail bill would pass his chamber before the Assembly adjourns for the year at midnight Monday.

Kelly Brewington

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