March 25, 2009
Controversy is brewing over language that the Senate Finance Committee put into its proposed budget Monday that would bar state funds from being used for embryonic stem-cell research. Corrie MacLaggan and I wrote about the issue in today’s Statesman.
There is talk that opponents of this provision, namely Democrats, could try to block the budget from coming to the Senate floor until it is taken out. Sen. Kirk Watson told me yesterday that “all options are on the table” when it comes to fighting the bill. And Sen. Judith Zaffirini told Patti Kilday Hart of Texas Monthly’s Burkablog, “There are some members so upset there has been discussion of blocking the appropriations bill if this rider remains in it.”
Both Zaffirini and Watson say the move should be something the full Senate can debate.
As first proposed, the rider said, “No funds appropriated under this Act shall be used in conjunction with or to support any activity whatsoever, including research which involves the destruction of a human embryo.” Ogden then took out the “any activity whatsoever, including” part, so that it now reads, “No funds appropriated under this Act shall be used in conjunction with or to support research which involves the destruction of a human embryo.”
Ogden told me that he thought the change he made to the language would remove the concern that the state would bar embryonic stem-cell research in any facility that receives state aid, even if it was paid for with federal funds.
“It wasn’t my intention with this amendment to create a bunch of black helicopters,” Ogden told me. “So the amendment just says no state funds for research that causes the destruction of a human embryo.”
He does have a bill that would create a larger ban — it would bar any facility owned, leased or run by the state from doing embryonic stem-cell research, even with federal funds. But he said putting that larger ban in the appropriations bill could have blown up the entire budget.
“I don’t think, as a general rule, you can write legislation in the budget,” Ogden told MacLaggan. “We do from time to time and nobody says anything, but if it’s controversial, I know you can’t. And so the legislation that’s in my committee, if I had tried to put it in the appropriations bill, it would have probably blown it up because I think you’re actually writing legislation.”
But because advocates for embryonic stem cell research view the language that Ogden put into the budget so much more broadly than he does (they think that the way it’s worded could ban all facilities receiving state funds from doing the controversial research at all), it threatens to blow up the budget anyway.
Voting for the budget rider on Monday night were Senate Republicans Ogden, Bob Deuell, Kevin Eltife, Jane Nelson, Chris Harris and Tommy Williams. Voting against the measure, Republican Robert Duncan joined Democrats John Whitmire, Royce West, Eddie Lucio and Chuy Hinojosa.