- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed an additional $10 million in funding for stem-cell research in the 2008 budget he submitted to the legislature yesterday.

The proposal by Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, would augment $15 million in stem-cell research funding provided by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. An Ehrlich initiative directed that the money be distributed as grants through a quasi-independent Stem Cell Research Commission, whose members are appointed by state leaders and representatives of medical and research institutions.

Appointees have expertise in relevant fields, such as science, religion, bioethics and patient advocacy.

But Sen. Michael G. Lenett, a Montgomery County Democrat, yesterday introduced a bill that would require the commission to prioritize embryonic stem-cell research over adult stem-cell research, claiming embryonic stem-cell research is the more effective.

“It’s been shown to be the most promising form of research,” Mr. Lenett said. “It’s incumbent on Maryland to take the lead.”

Mr. Lenett, a freshman, has already set an ambitious agenda, sponsoring two other bills that would ban assault weapons and using handheld cell phones while driving.

Some legislators were hesitant to evaluate the stem-cell research bill before reviewing it further, but others have given it a warm reception.

Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton said he did not want the state to be limited to conducting research solely on adult stem cells. Mr. Middleton, Charles County Democrat, is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will hold hearings on the bill.

Nancy Paltell, associate director of Respect for Life at the Maryland Catholic Conference, questioned the research value of embryonic stem cells. She also questioned whether Mr. Lenett’s bill was true to Mr. Ehrlich’s request that science be used to determine the best stem-cell research to fund.

“I think this new bill really demonstrates the tunnel vision some legislators have,” Miss Paltell said.

The stem-cell research bill is likely to enliven what was shaping up to be a quiet legislative session in Annapolis. Before submitting his budget to the General Assembly, Mr. O’Malley ruled out debate on legalizing slot machines and raising taxes, and he announced a one-time transfer of funds from the state’s rainy day fund to defer potentially painful budget cuts.

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