Ban on tax-funded stem cell research passes Senate, House

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A ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a technique used in some forms of stem cell research, passed the House and Senate floors on Tuesday evening in a pair of higher education budget bills. The bills would prohibit state or federal funding from going toward SCNT stem cell research. The two bills are headed to conference committee, where the two bodies will hash out the parts of the bills that differ. Gov. Mark Dayton indicated in a letter to legislators that he would veto a bill that contained the stem cell bans, citing them as policy issues that don’t belong in budget bills.

In the House, Rep, King Banaian (R-St. Cloud) moved to amend the higher education bill with language banning SCNT, calling it “human cloning.”

“This is simply concerned with the funding of research into this. It is not an outright ban,” he said on the floor. “It does not ban a state institution doing it if it was able to find private funding to do so.”

In the Senate, the higher education bill was similarly amended in committee by Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), whose husband, Scott Fischbach is executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, which has lobbied for the ban.

DFLers on the Senate floor objected to the provision saying it would prevent important therapeutic research from happening in Minnesota.

“The effect of that would be very significant for our economy and jobs, and very significant for the potential to control or cure very sign diseases that affect all of our families,” said Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park).

He said proponents of the bill weren’t being completely honest about its true motivations.

“It’s the agenda of [Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life] and the pro-life movement to move the line of where human conception begins,” said Latz. “I respect those who sincerely hold those beliefs, but we ought to be having it on terms that we understand that it’s not hiding behind scientific language when that’s not really what it’s doing.”

DFLers moved to amend the bill to have it ban the creation of human clones and to allow for therapeutic research.

Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) said, “If you want to ban cloning but don’t want to stop the medical research, vote for the amendment, but don’t be pretending you want to do it because you want to ban human cloning.”

Those amendments were defeated.

Gov. Dayton wrote Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch on Tuesday stating that like his predecessor, Republican Tim Pawlenty, he would likely send back bills that contained “extraneous policy” proposals that didn’t relate to the budget.

And Dayton’s commissioner of higher education, Sheila Wright, specifically called out the stem cell ban in a letter to Republican leadership.

“Language regarding Human Cloning is moving in a separate bill and should continue to do so,” wrote Wright. “Any policy provisions not tied to the budget should be removed so we can focus on the budget.”