- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 26, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — House lawmakers gave preliminary approval yesterday to provide state money for embryonic stem-cell research.

Similar legislation is stalled in a Senate committee with about two weeks remaining in the 2005 General Assembly session.

House lawmakers rejected four amendments before giving the preliminary approval.

Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Cecil Republican, presented one of the amendments, saying it was needed to make sure the law bans human cloning. However, Delegate John Adams Hurson, Montgomery Democrat, said the bill already makes such cloning illegal.

The House also rejected a move to allow some of the $25 million a year in state funds that would be provided by the bill to be used for research on umbilical-cord blood and adult stem cells.

Delegate Susan K. McComas, Harford Republican, said embryonic stem-cell research has resulted in no treatments for diseases, while there have been promising advances in research on adult stem cells and umbilical-cord blood.

Mr. Hurson said federal money is available for adult stem cell and umbilical-cord blood, but not for research on new stem-cell lines.

A final House vote is expected this week.

The Senate legislation has been approved by one committee, but has not been voted on by the Budget and Taxation Committee. Senate opponents are threatening a filibuster to try to defeat the bill if it reaches the chamber floor.

The $25 million in the House and Senate bills comes from money the state receives annually from tobacco companies. The bills would allow funding only on embryos that were created during fertility treatments and would otherwise be discarded because they are no longer needed.

Mr. Hurson said other states — including California with $3 billion in research funds approved by voters — are providing money for embryonic stem-cell research and that Maryland must follow to protect the state’s biotechnology industry.

The bill puts the legislature into the middle of a national debate over embryonic stem-cell research and whether it holds out false promises or real hope for cures to a variety of medical problems, such as spinal-cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

The House also spent about five hours yesterday going through an agenda that included more than 100 bills.

Delegates approved and sent to the Senate a bill setting aside five days in August in which parents can buy back-to-school clothes for children without paying sales tax. They also gave preliminary approval to bills setting restrictions on the sale of state park lands and on classifying as murder the deliberate killing of a fetus that could survive outside the mother’s womb.

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