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Stem-Cell Research Initiative Receives Endorsement

The L.A. Chamber of Commerce comes out in favor of the $3-billion ballot measure, saying it would benefit health and the economy.

June 19, 2004|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

A November ballot initiative that would have state taxpayers underwrite $3 billion of embryonic stem-cell research received its first major business endorsement Friday.

In announcing its support of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce argued that state funding would not only encourage cures for diseases but produce new businesses and jobs from resulting technologies.

"We do want to capture this research for this region and for this state," said George Kieffer, chairman of the board of directors of the L.A. chamber, which represents more than 1,300 Southern California businesses. "This is going to be of value to Californians economically as well as from the standpoint of health."

The chamber's endorsement marks the public launch of an expected push by business groups for the measure.

The campaign is designed to add an economic argument to a national debate over stem-cell research that has been framed largely in moral and medical terms.

In 2001, President Bush issued an executive order limiting the use of federal funds for stem-cell research to a small number of cell colonies already extracted from human embryos. Bush said he wanted to avoid doing anything that would "encourage further destruction of human embryos."

Supporters of such research, which include former First Lady Nancy Reagan, argue that stem cells provide the best chance to discover cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes.

The measure was certified for the ballot earlier this month and has yet to attract official opposition, though some conservative groups have spoken against it.

State Controller Steve Westly, who also endorsed the measure at Friday's news conference, promised "the same sort of huge, bipartisan statewide coalition" for the measure as backed last March's successful Propositions 57 and 58. Proposition 57 involved a $15-billion general obligation bond to cover the state's deficit.

If approved, the stem-cell measure would authorize $3 billion in the same sort of general obligation bond, which requires the money to be paid back from the state's general fund. A new institute for stem-cell research would be established to distribute as much as $350 million a year to researchers.

Westly, citing his role as the state's chief financial officer, said the borrowing would produce "tremendous return on investment."

Westly co-chaired the campaign for Propositions 57 and 58 with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Kieffer is a friend -- and personal lawyer -- of First Lady Maria Shriver.

Schwarzenegger has said he supports stem-cell research but has yet to take a position on the measure. But Westly said he hoped to have the governor's support.

"I'm very hopeful he will be here," Westly said. "I think, ideologically, this is the sort of thing he would feel very good about."

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