ANNAPOLIS – Lawmakers supporting stem cell research have barely a month left in the General Assembly session to reconcile the differences between two vastly different bills passed by the Senate and House of Delegates.
“I don’t think we’re going to change any votes,” said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County. “I think the lines are drawn.”
The Senate voted 29-18 Thursday in favor of a bill that would create a committee to allocate stem cell research dollars. The legislation cleared the required majority of 24 after a compromise removing language objectionable to opponents helped break a Republican-led filibuster on Wednesday.
The House of Delegates has already passed its version of the bill, by a substantial 85-54 vote. The House bill gives priority to embryonic stem cell research, language which was removed from the Senate bill and a key point over which opponents were willing to filibuster.
The House bill also provides $25 million in funding for the research. Both of those provisions were taken out of the Senate bill, which relies instead on $20 million in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s proposed FY2007 budget for unspecified types of stem cell research.
“The governor does not believe that legislation is necessary,” said Henry P. Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman. “The stem cell plan in his budget is the strongest out there.”
After Thursday’s vote, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, said he was doubtful the House version of the bill would pass the Senate unscathed.
“Looking at the dynamics (of the Senate), I think the House would be well-advised to look at the Senate bill and pass the best option,” he said.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel said the Senate bill is flawed in that in contains no funding and does not give priority to embryonic research.
“We’ll look at the dialogue between the House and the Senate and see if we can come to a compromise,” he said.
Still, the House majority leader, Delegate Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery, said that some form of the bills would be passed this year.
“I’m disappointed that (the Senate bill) was watered down so much,” he said. “I’m confident that we’ll resolve something.”
If the Senate bill is changed in the House of Delegates, the bill will be sent to a conference committee, composed of three members from each house, where the differences will be ironed out. Both houses will vote up or down on a final version of the legislation.
Republican lawmakers, who led the opposition to both bills, were joined by some Democrats in a five-hour filibuster of the Senate bill Wednesday. They took issue with the preferential treatment given to embryonic research, which they argue is an unethical and unproven practice.
Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, D-Baltimore County has been one of the most vocal opponents of embryonic research.
“We create an aura of hope out there that is years and years and years in the future when we could be enrolling people in clinical trials (of adult stem cell research) right after the effective date of this bill,” he said. “This bill just isn’t ready for prime time yet.”
“You can make a horror movie out of the things that could happen with this bill,” said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick. “We have to opt in favor that (an embryo) is a human life until somebody can prove that it isn’t.”
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill has the “most restrictive language” out of all the states that fund stem cell research, including provisions that would only allow leftover embryo’s to be used for research.
“We’re not talking about mad science,” she said. “Without this piece of legislation, it’s a free-for-all . . . Honey, anybody can go in there (to get funding).”
Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, R-Howard, was the lone defector from the GOP opposition, saying that she supported the bill once the funding was removed. “I believe in the whole idea of stem cell research,” she said. “Everything from embryonic to adult.”