ANNAPOLIS – A measure to guide state funding of stem cell research cleared the Maryland General Assembly Wednesday and now goes to the desk of Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, who has indicated he will sign it into law.
The bill, which survived an earlier Republican-led filibuster in the Senate, passed the House Friday by a 90-48 vote. After the votes were counted, supporters unfurled a banner in the House gallery that read “Thank You for Hope!”
Many of the supporters present were personally affected by diseases they hope will one day be cured through stem cell research. After the vote they congregated on the steps of the State House for a celebratory press conference.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Andrea Koshko, of Perry Hall, whose 6-year-old daughter, Haley, suffers from juvenile diabetes. “Hopefully, it is a new beginning for finding cures and helping people with these diseases.”
John Kellermann, 50, of Towson, who as a result of Parkinson’s disease walks with a cane, described the two years it took to get the legislation through the General Assembly as an “emotional rollercoaster.”
He thanked Senator Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, for sponsoring the bill and thanked Governor Ehrlich for proposing $20 million in the state budget for stem cell research earlier in the session.
Soon afterwards, Ehrlich also appeared outside the State House, where he indicated he would sign the bill into law despite his earlier doubts that legislation is needed to guide the research funding.
“It’s a major step in the right direction,” he said.
Ehrlich’s budget proposal would have left the choice of how to spend the research funds up to the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), a quasi-governmental business and technology development organization based in Columbia.
The bill passed by the General Assembly Wednesday instead establishes a scientific peer-review committee to distribute the money through research grants.
“TEDCO we believe was the right place to direct it,” Ehrlich said. “But if a bill has to be passed, this one reflects the administration’s position.”
The $20 million Ehrlich proposed for stem cell research will be reduced to $15 million by the General Assembly, according to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
The stem cell bill stirred strong feelings during this session of the General Assembly, because of its original focus on research on embryos.
Supporters argued that embryonic stem cell research holds great promise for cures to horrible diseases and needs to be funded at the state level because of federal restrictions put in place by President Bush. Opponents countered that research on adult stem cells is closer to producing results and that destroying embryos is immoral.
The conflict produced a compromise bill that still allows for funding of embryonic stem cell research, but now gives equal consideration to adult stem cell research. The version passed by the House Wednesday also lacks $25 million in funding that the bill originally mandated, and instead leaves research funding up to the governor.
Despite those concessions, the bill’s supporters were pleased. “This is a good beginning,” said Dr. John Gearhart, a Johns Hopkins researcher who first identified and isolated stem cells capable of turning into any other cell in the human body. “It will fund a significant amount of work.” 3-29-2005