The Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A state trial judge on Wednesday denied a request from critics of embryonic stem-cell research to block $21 million from going to the state’s Life Sciences Research Board.
Missouri Roundtable for Life, represented by the governor’s former chief of staff, filed a lawsuit earlier this week asking the courts to intervene before the state provides $21 million to a life-sciences board that awards research grants.
Cole County Judge Jon Beetem refused to issue a temporary restraining order that could have blocked state money from going to the life-sciences board for 15 days. Beetem’s ruling, however, doesn’t end the lawsuit, and another hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 1.
Speaking from the bench during a brief hearing Wednesday, Beetem said that there wasn’t enough evidence that state money going to the board would cause an “irreparable harm” to justify the temporary order.
Ed Martin, a former Blunt aide and Missouri Roundtable for Life’s attorney, said that before the life-sciences board gets state money, the courts need to answer two questions about the rules for how those funds can be used.
Martin said a 2006 constitutional amendment endorsing stem-cell research makes unclear the validity of existing limits on what kinds of research can be supported by the life-sciences board. He said it also is possible that under the 2006 amendment, the Life Sciences Research Board will now always need to receive at least $21 million, and that any entity receiving a research grant could be entitled to at least that sum every year.
“We need the legal answer to this, either way, yes or no,” Martin said.
Voters in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment that guarantees stem-cell research that is legal under federal law is also legal in Missouri. It also bars lawmakers from docking an entity’s budget because it conducts embryonic stem-cell research.
Martin points to the second provision as potentially making the life-sciences board and grant recipients entitled to money every year. Others have disagreed with that interpretation, calling the lawsuit an attempt to create controversy where there isn’t any.
The $21 million at issue comes from the Life Sciences Research Trust Fund and goes to the Life Sciences Research Board. The trust fund was created in 2003 to spend one-quarter of Missouri’s annual tobacco settlement proceeds, which typically are received in spring. The 2003 law creating the fund also bars spending money for abortion services and human cloning — limits that Martin says might have been trumped by the 2006 constitutional amendment.
Lawmakers this year also included even more restrictions on using life-sciences money in the state budget that took effect Tuesday. That appropriation specifies that the money can be used “exclusively on animal science, plant science, medical devices, biomaterials and composite research, diagnostics, nanotechnology related to drug development and delivery, clinical imaging and information technology related to human health.”
Deputy Attorney General Karen Mitchell, who represents most of the state entities named in the lawsuit, said that blocking money from going to the life-sciences board would delay the review of applications for research grants and create unnecessary uncertainty about whether any funds would be available.
And an attorney representing the office of Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman said that because no grants are slotted to be awarded soon, she did not see harm in temporarily blocking the $21 million from being spent.
The Associated Press