After 45 minutes of debate, the House on Tuesday tentatively approved a bill requiring the University of Kansas Medical Center to create a center for conducting non-embryonic stem cell research.
The bill was endorsed on a voice vote. Final action on the measure is pending, but it is expected to advance.
The Senate approved Senate Bill 199 last month, 33-7, at the urging of Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita, and Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican.
Pilcher-Cook, the bill’s primary sponsor, said during the Senate debate last month that members of her family suffered from Huntington’s Disease.
“I don’t know if stem cells are going to help, but I do know that we’re breaking ground in different areas of research every day,” said Pilcher-Cook. “Kansas needs to be on the leading edge of the research.”
Wagle has credited the role of umbilical cord stem cells in cancer treatment as having saved her son's life.
Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who is a retired physician, spoke against the bill calling it an "unfunded mandate" for the medical center, which has a campus in Kansas City, Kan.
The fiscal note for the bill indicates that center would cost KU about $10.7 million over 10 years, but the bill does not allocate any new state spending for the project. Neither do the budget bills approved earlier by the House and Senate.
"I have heard from this body I don't know how many times that we want less government. There is nothing about this bill that represents less government," Bollier said.
Bollier is on the Health and Human Services Committee, which heard testimony on the bill.
She said she had asked KU Medical Center's new executive vice chancellor, Dr. Douglas Girod, whether he supported the proposal.
"His preference was that we not mandate something for them, that they know what they need to do, that they prefer to focus on their cancer institute and educating their students," she said.
Also testifying against the bill were Democrats Jim Ward of Wichita and John Wilson of Lawrence.
"Nobody at KU has been requesting that this center be developed. The people that are requesting it are people in this building and some folks from Washington, D.C.," Wilson said.
"We are cutting funding to KU Medical Center by $10 million but yet want to require that they create a new center," he said, referring to a plan approved by the House to cut higher education spending by 4 percent and salaries by $5 million.
"Today, if they wanted to do this, they could establish this center, they could have KU Endowment support, they could have support from community foundations and they do not need our help to do that," he said.
Two legislators spoke in favor of the bill: Republican Reps. Susan Concannon of Beloit and David Crum of Augusta.
Crum, who chairs the House health committee, responded to the criticism that no legislation was needed to establish the center.
"The center hasn't been established and it's very likely that it won't be established without this legislation. It is very much within the authority of the legislature to create policy that we think is in the best interest of the state," he said. "There's been concerns raised that there's no state general fund dollars being distributed to this center. However, it is my understanding there are opportunities for significant private and grant funding for this center to help get it started."
The bill passed without changes, following a failed amendment offered by Bollier, which she said would have given KU more flexibility in setting up the center. Once the bill gets final approval, probably on Wednesday, it will go to Gov. Sam Brownback for signature into law.
Drug testing welfare recipients and legislators
The House also tentatively approved on a voice vote Senate Bill 149, which would require people receiving or applying for public assistance to be tested for use of illegal drugs starting July 1.
The bill was amended to strike language that would have allowed the results of the drug tests to be shared with prosecutors. As amended, only the Kansas Department of Children and Families would have access to the results.
The bill was passed in the Senate last month, 31-8, after being amended to add members of the House and Senate to the list of state employees who could be required to undergo drug testing. Current law requires the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and persons in sensitive safety positions to undergo drug testing given "reasonable suspicion."
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