Senate Passes Bill on Stem Cell Funding
Friday, March 10, 2006
The Maryland Senate approved a bill yesterday that would establish guidelines for spending state money on stem cell research, moving forward legislation that died a year ago amid a threatened filibuster by socially conservative members.
The 29 to 18 vote came after an hour of impassioned debate from supporters who spoke of the promise the research holds for treating debilitating conditions and from opponents who voiced strong ethical objections to the science, for which President Bush has restricted funding on the federal level.
"Research means we're looking for answers," said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County), the chief sponsor of the legislation. "Research means hope."
Advocates of the bill embraced one another as they watched from the Senate gallery, but its passage posed a dilemma for leaders in the House of Delegates, which passed a more expansive bill last week. Most notably, that bill mandates $25 million a year for the science, while the Senate bill leaves it to future governors to propose funding.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he and his lieutenants would take at least the weekend to weigh whether to seek compromise legislation or pass the Senate bill, which barely survived a filibuster attempt Wednesday.
"The good news is, both houses have passed a bill," Busch said. "The question is, can we go forward in an incremental way with what the Senate has passed?"
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said Busch needs to make that decision, but Miller said he is uncertain whether he could get another version of the bill through his chamber by the end of the session next month.
"I just ask the speaker to understand the dynamics of the Senate," Miller said.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said yesterday that he is reserving final judgment until a bill reaches his desk, but he praised the Senate "for clearly moving in the right direction."
Ehrlich included $20 million in his budget proposal for stem cell research next year, leaving it to a technology development company to determine which projects to fund. He had said previously that additional legislation is not necessary.
Maryland is seeking to join a growing number of states that have funded embryonic stem cell research in the wake of Bush's 2001 executive order that limited federal spending on the science. Opponents say the work is tantamount to abortion, because it involves the destruction of a human embryo.
The House and Senate bills would also allow grants for work using adult stem cells, which are derived from a variety of sources, including bone marrow, and do not generate the same controversy.
Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick) argued that the state should not condone work on embryonic cells. "These are human lives," he said. "I urge the body to oppose the bill out of respect for human life."
Supporters said the only embryos authorized for use under the bill are those that would be discarded at infertility clinics.
Passage of the Senate bill was all but assured after Democrats broke the GOP-led filibuster on the floor Wednesday afternoon. The turning point was a deal struck to remove a provision giving preference to projects using embryonic cells.
The compromise was proposed by Sen. Roy P. Dyson (St. Mary's), one of five Democrats who sided with Republicans in earlier votes that allowed the filibuster to continue.
Dyson said he felt his amendments improved the bill and agreed to cut off debate. But he and the four other Democrats joined with 13 Republicans in voting against the final version yesterday.
The only Republican to support the legislation was Sen. Sandra B. Schrader (R-Howard), who faces a tough reelection battle in a moderate district where stem cell research is popular.
She joined 28 Democrats in voting for the bill, including Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Anne Arundel), who expressed moral qualms about the legislation a year ago but worked with supporters this year to secure changes. Giannetti faces a well-financed Democratic challenger in a district that includes College Park, home of the University of Maryland's flagship campus.