Steve Ogden may have lost support of Senate Democrats for SB 1 with his surprise rider prohibiting state funds to be used in stem cell research, or as the rider states:  “in conjunction with or to support research that involves the destruction of a human embryo.” The rider was added Monday with little debate, on a 6-5 vote, with several members absent from the committee. Judith Zaffirini tells us that “there are some members so upset there has been discussion of blocking the appropriations bill if this rider remains in it.”  Zaffirini believes that such an important statement of public policy deserves a full hearing so the Legislature could hear from scientists whose research would be impacted.

Earlier today, Kirk Watson issued a statement opposing the rider:

“The fates of Texas workers, scientists, patients and families were thrown into limbo late Monday when the Senate Finance Committee, with no notice or discussion, slipped an obscure provision into the state budget that would ban nearly all embryonic stem cell research in Texas.”

“Given the lack of discussion, it’s unclear whether the committee intended to institute such a sweeping ban.  But the wording of this action plainly forbids state money from being used “in conjunction with or to support” this vital pursuit.  That means it would effectively bar some of Texas‘ top researchers from the state’s universities and laboratories, where most of this work in the state is currently taking place.”

“As written, this measure undermines promising industries just when the economy needs them the most.  It drives away some of our best and brightest people even as we struggle to attract more like them.  And it would all but guarantee that cures for our stricken neighbors and loved ones won’t be discovered in Texas – if they’re discovered at all.”

“A study by Dr. Bernard Weinstein and Dr. Terry Clower, both of the University of North Texas, found that embryonic stem cell research “is a critical component of the life sciences and the study of diseases” in the state, which in turn are essential industries for the Texas economy.  Failing to keep pace with the world in this area, the study found, could cost Texas more than 100,000 jobs alone by 2014.”

“If Texas is to be a leader in the biosciences, with all the anticipated health and economic benefits that will follow, we must create a hospitable environment for research and development,” the study found.  “At a minimum, Texas needs to be known as a ‘safe harbor’ for regenerative medical research, including embryonic stem cell research.”

“This action dodged an open debate and a heads-up vote, instead all but secretly writing this provision into the state budget – the one bill that the legislature must legally pass every two years.  This denies Texans on both sides the right to study this critical question.”

The rider also caught the notice of Texans for the Advancement of Medical Research. The organization issued this statement questioning the rider’s impact on the Texas new $3 billion cancer research initiative:

“By placing a prohibition on what research can be conducted in state facilities or using state monies, Texas is placing the great potential of the newly formed Cancer Institute in jeopardy….Research on cancer and other serious diseases depends largely on the biological understanding of how cells function and where malignancies or mutations occur and why. Researchers have repeatedly said that studying embryonic stem cells is very important to understanding those processes.”