A three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco on Wednesday heard oral arguments in two consolidated cases challenging the constitutionality of California's Proposition 71 -- approved by voters in 2004 to provide $3 billion for human embryonic stem cell research -- the Los Angeles Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 2/15).
State voters in November 2004 approved Proposition 71 to provide $295 million annually for 10 years for human embryonic stem cell research, and two taxpayer groups and the California Family Bioethics Council in 2005 filed a lawsuit arguing that the measure violates the state constitution. California Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw in April 2006 ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show the proposition "is clearly, positively and unmistakably unconstitutional," adding that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee -- which are charged with implementing Proposition 71 -- "are operating in the same fashion as other state agencies." The plaintiffs appealed the ruling. While the suits are pending, CIRM is unable to sell state bonds required to fund the program, institute officials have said (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 11/21/06). The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Finance Committee in November 2006 unanimously approved a $181 million loan to CIRM, which includes $150 million from the state's general fund ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and $31 million from private donations (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 12/19/06). The three-judge panel has 90 days to render a decision, but it is expected to rule relatively soon, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 2/15).
David Llewellyn, a lawyer representing the California Family Bioethics Council, said Proposition 71 violates the state's "single-subject" rule for putting initiatives on the ballot because it allows for more than just stem cell research funding, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports. Llewellyn also said the citizen oversight committee -- which includes officials from three university systems -- has many conflicts of interest. However, Justice Stuart Pollak said, "Proposition 71 does not permit [citizen oversight committee] members to vote on grants to their own institutions." He added that in terms of the single-subject rule, general language appeared to be included to ensure that all stem cell research funding would not be overlapped or obstructed with other kinds of medical research (Elias, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 2/14). Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that Proposition 71 was unconstitutional because it created a taxpayer-funded entity that is not under the direct control or management of the state (Los Angeles Times, 2/15). Robert Taylor, an attorney for the People's Advocate and National Tax Limitation Foundation, said the citizen oversight committee was appointed by university chancellors, who are not elected. Justice Joanne Parelli said the chancellors of those schools are appointed by state regents who are appointed by the governor. Parelli said, "Everyone is either appointed by a public official or in a chain of public officials" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 2/14).