ANNAPOLIS – A Senate committee Tuesday created a third version of a controversial measure to allot state funds for stem cell research, muddying the bill’s chances of passing as the legislative session nears its end.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee made three changes to the Senate version of the Stem Cell Research Act Tuesday, and voted 9-4 in favor of the new bill.
Last week, the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee passed the original bill designating $25 million in state funds for research on embryonic stem cells annually, forbidding human cloning and prohibiting the creation of embryos for research.
That bill was sponsored by Chairwoman Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County.
The Senate budget committee shaped a new version of Hollinger’s bill, also forbidding researchers from using cells from unfertilized eggs in their studies, allowing for some of the $25 million to be applied to causes other than stem cell research and making adult stem cell research eligible for state grants.
Embryonic stem cells differ from adult stem cells because they are derived from fertilized human embryos, which some key lawmakers say are living human beings. Adult cells come from human tissue.
With just 12 days left in the 90-day session, Hollinger’s committee must review the new version of her bill, along with a third version approved by the House.
The House bill devotes $23 million to embryonic research only, plus $2 million for prostate cancer treatment and screenings. It passed the House, 81-53, after much debate Monday.
The Senate budget committee will also consider that bill, which ignores adult stem cell research because it is federally funded.
Sen. Patrick Hogan, D-Montgomery, who proposed two of the changes the committee made to Hollinger’s bill, questioned why Maryland should not split its funding between adult and embryonic cell research.
“We’re picking one over the other,” he said.
But giving state funds to adult cell research would take badly needed money away from embryonic research, said Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery. A 2001 law prohibited use of federal funds for embryonic cell studies, which could provide a boon to Maryland’s biotech industry.
“Right now, we’re trying to address an area that is restricted,” Ruben said. “What we need is something that will keep scientists here.”
Debate over how to spend the $25 million set aside in an annual Cigarette Restitution Fund is expected to be prolonged if the Senate committees can agree on a version to bring before the whole chamber.
Lawmakers opposed to funding embryonic research plan to filibuster the measure if it gets that far, said Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick. Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, also would expect extended debate.
“I think there will be days and days worth of debate on that,” Mooney said. “We’ll debate that right up until sine die at midnight.” The General Assembly’s final adjournment for the year is called sine die and falls on April 11.
Hollinger said last week she is confident she can secure at least the 29 votes needed to trump the filibuster and force a Senate vote.
She could not be reached for further comment on Tuesday.