COLUMBUS - The Ohio House Democratic leader yesterday urged Republicans not to push a controversial bill prohibiting the spending of state research funds on projects involving embryonic stem cells and human cloning.
House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said talks continue among Republican members over whether to pass the bill before voters are asked on Nov. 8 to approve a package of three bond issues totaling $2 billion.
As part of that package, $500 million would be earmarked for Gov. Bob Taft's pet program formerly known as Third Frontier, an investment in high-tech and biomedical research and product development.
Mr. Husted said he sees no urgency for passage, saying he believes Issue 1 will pass despite attempts by more conservative groups to defeat it at the polls because it contains no restrictions on funding embryonic stem-cell research.
"I believe that we have through the governor's executive order sufficient safeguards in place for those with immediate concerns," said Mr. Husted. "The question is the statutory response for the longer-term view of the issue, and that's going to require more discussion among members of our caucus."
The House had included a broadly worded ban on all forms of stem-cell research in the two-year budget that took effect July 1. Mr. Taft vetoed the language, objecting to the fact that the ban would also apply to research eligible for federal funding under President Bush's 2001 edict limiting such research only to embryonic stem-cell lines already in existence at that time.
Mr. Taft subsequently issued his own executive order adopting Mr. Bush's stance.
The limits, however, could be reversed by his successors or by an act of the General Assembly.
Research involving embryonic stem cells, such as those taken from unused embryos at fertility clinics, is considered promising because cells in such an early stage of development have yet to differentiate.
Theoretically, the cells might be triggered to become specific forms of cells to fight Parkinson's disease and diabetes or repair spinal cord damage.
So far, Third Frontier has funded only research involving adult stem cells. Research on the original embryonic stem-cell lines is taking place at Case-Western Reserve University and Ohio State University, but they have not received Third Frontier funding.
House Democratic leader Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) objected to the swift approval of the stem-cell ban bill by a House committee following just one hearing last week.
"At a minimum, it appears that House Bill 355 will throw roadblocks in the path of Ohioans seeking treatment for Alzheimer's, juvenile diabetes, or other diseases," he wrote in a letter to Mr. Husted. "It would also hurt our state's efforts to attract biotech jobs. It may even make criminals out of Ohioans who leave the state in search of treatments developed through embryonic stem cell research."
Rep. Mike Gilb (R., Findlay) said talks continue on the technical aspects of the bill.
"I've heard there's new technology that may be able to extract stem cells without destroying the embryo," he said. "We certainly don't want to impede that kind of progress. We don't think state money should be directed in the area of destroying a human embryo."
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