By CHRIS BLANK
Associated Press Writer
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) _ An attorney for the state urged a judge Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit by opponents of embryonic stem cell research seeking to block funding to Missouri’s Life Sciences Research Board.
Missouri Roundtable for Life filed suit earlier this year to bar this year’s $21 million for the life sciences board, which distributes the money as research grants. Critics of embryonic stem cell research worry the money could be used to support the type of scientific investigation they oppose.
But Deputy Attorney General Karen Mitchell argued in Cole County Circuit Court on Wednesday that the issue is not yet ripe for court action, because no grants have yet been awarded.
The $21 million at issue would flow to the Life Sciences Research Board from the Life Sciences Research Trust Fund, which was created in 2003 to spend one-quarter of Missouri’s annual proceeds from a legal settlement between states and tobacco companies.
Among other provisions, the 2003 law bars spending the money for abortion services and human cloning.
Critics of stem cell research worry that the prohibitions were invalidated when voters amended the Missouri Constitution in 2006 to guarantee that any stem cell research legal under federal law is also legal in Missouri.
Attorney Stephen Clark told Judge Richard Callahan on Wednesday that if the restrictions were rendered invalid by the 2006 amendment, then lawmakers also cannot put any money in the Life Sciences Trust Fund because it was created with certain limitations in mind.
“There is a controversy over whether Amendment 2 wiped out the restrictions of the life sciences research fund,” Clark said, referring to the constitutional amendment by its 2006 ballot label. “If Amendment 2 did that, then the life sciences research fund ceases to exist.”
Callahan, who did not rule immediately, struck a skeptical note during the hearing on whether a genuine legal dispute exists before this year’s research grants are awarded.
“It strikes me more like an academic exercise that we’re involved in at this point,” Callahan said, at one point asking Clark specifically, “Who’s your controversy with?”
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Life Sciences Research Board and several other state entities with administrative roles for the trust fund or the board, such as the Missouri Technology Corp.
The Missouri Technology Corp. is a quasi-state entity that helps private businesses link with universities, particularly emphasizing research in life sciences and other high-tech areas. The governor appoints 11 of the corporation’s 15 board members and selects the chairman.
It has faced some controversy in the Legislature over stem cell research because its former board chairman, Donn Rubin, helped lead efforts to pass the 2006 constitutional amendment.
Last week, Gov. Matt Blunt announced he had appointed Rubin to an additional term on the board and replaced him as board chairman with former state Economic Development Director Greg Steinhoff. The move was described in a news release as “the position’s regular rotation.”
On the same day, technology corporation executive director Rob Monsees said in a deposition for the stem cell lawsuit that he had suggested Blunt pick a new chairman because Rubin had become a “lightning rod.”
“People that want to support the Life Science Trust Fund feel that the controversy associated with Donn Rubin as chair of MTC affects the way that issue is viewed in the General Assembly,” Monsees said in the deposition.
Blunt’s spokeswoman, Jessica Robinson, said Wednesday that potential controversy about Rubin played no role in the governor’s decision to replace him as board chairman.
Case is Missouri Roundtable for Life vs. Sarah Steelman, 08AC-CC00517
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