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State-funded stem cell studies, slot machines fall short in Md.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (BP)–Bills to spark embryonic stem cell research and legalize slot machines failed to survive the final days of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2005 session.

A threatened filibuster by Senate Republicans on April 11, the last day of the 90-day legislative session, derailed a bill to provide $23 million to scientists for embryonic stem cell research.

The bill’s supporters blamed Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich for failing to push its passage, in comparison to his advocacy for slot machines in Maryland.

“The governor could have helped,” the bill’s lead sponsor, state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat, was quoted as saying. “Now he is allowing scientists to wave goodbye to our state.”

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and former Gov. Harry R. Hughes joined an afternoon news conference April 11 to make a final appeal for the legislation while Ehrlich remained silent on the issue.

The Maryland House of Delegates approved the bill March 28 by vote of 81-53.

Meanwhile, Ehrlich-backed legislation to legalize slot machines in Maryland failed for the third year in a row, though it achieved the closest margin to date.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun: “The Senate quickly passed its version of Ehrlich’s signature initiative. The House, by the slimmest margin possible, passed a stripped-down slots bill of its own. But the Senate and the governor wouldn’t accept the House bill, and the House leadership wouldn’t negotiate, leaving slots to die quietly at the end of the session.”

If the General Assembly fails to legalize slot machines during its 2006 session, Ehrlich told the Sun he believes the issue will help his re-election later in ’06, being able to pin blame on Democrats for the stymied legislation.

The push for embryonic stem cell research in Maryland follows last November’s approval by California voters of the yearly sale of $300 million in bonds to stimulate such research in the state over the next 10 years, for a total of $3 billion. The initiative not only supports embryonic stem cell research but permits the cloning of human embryos for research purposes, which destroys the tiny human beings. Last year New Jersey also established a $380 million fund for a stem cell research institute.

A spokesman for Ehrlich described the proposed $23 million in Maryland funding as “a miniscule amount of money,” but House Speaker Michael E. Busch said it would have been “a step in [California’s] direction.”

The Senate’s majority leader, Baltimore Democrat Nathaniel J. McFadden, told The Washington Times, “The faith community has really been on me about this.” He said the issue “has been rolled into the same contentious debate of the past –- the pro-choice, pro-life debate.”

The Bush administration continues to maintain its ban on federal funding of stem cell research that destroys embryos, which President Bush instituted in 2001.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, building hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. In addition to being extracted from embryos, the cells may be found in such non-embryonic sources as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, fat and placentas.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research claim their line of study has the most potential for creating cures. However, the multi-billion-dollar biotechnology industry has invested many times more in adult stem cell research. Also, embryonic stem cell research has experienced multiple failures, including the worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms in one human test group and a tendency to produce tumors in laboratory animals.

Research on stem cells from non-embryonic sources, however, has resulted in more than 40 treatments for such ailments as spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.

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