2 stem cell research bills see progress

by Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

The State Legislature moved a step closer to a formal policy regarding the University’s stem cell research Tuesday.

The Senate’s Higher Education Budget Division voted 5-4 Tuesday to send two potential bills to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

The bills would provide support for the University’s stem cell research effort. The proposals are similar, except one would allow state funds for the research.

A bill against stem cell research has not yet been brought before the committee for consideration, officials said.

“This is the next explosion and front of medical scientific research,” said Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, who wrote one of the bills.

Without government support for such research, the University could lose its position of pre-eminence as a research institution, he said. Cohen’s legislation would allow state funding of stem-cell research.

The University is already a significant source of Minnesota’s biotechnology industry, and stem cell research will potentially start another surge of biotech companies, he said.

“I’ll try not to duplicate what Sen. Cohen said,” Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Minneapolis, said of his similar proposed legislation. The bills would most likely be melded eventually, both senators said.

Kelley said his bill would make it “crystal clear” that the state supports the University’s stem cell research.

He said state regulation will be necessary, and that his bill holds provisions that would ban things such as embryonic stem cell trafficking. It would also make informed consent from embryo donors mandatory.

The research could help the state’s health and economy, Kelley said.

Moral decisions, he said, have to be made about this research.

“There are good reasons why the State Legislature and governor will make choices in favor of the future health of Minnesotans and the economic vigor of Minnesota research,” Kelley said.

Cohen said he was optimistic that legislation supporting stem cell research will get to the State Senate floor. Beyond that, he said he did not know.

“Given the present makeup of the Legislature, I’m not sure,” Cohen said. “There’s a lot of talk about killing it, unfortunately.”