Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

January 24, 2010

Voter-approved laws get tweaked

Lawmakers fiddle with stem cell, marijuana laws

LANSING (AP) -- Just over a year ago, Michigan voters put their stamp of approval on measures loosening restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and letting some sick people use marijuana for medical reasons.

Now state lawmakers -- mostly conservative Republicans -- are trying to change both measures, saying they need clarification to ensure there's enough oversight of the research and marijuana use the ballot measures allowed.

Legislators are struggling to find the fine line between better defining voter-approved measures that are vague or pose enforcement problems and upholding the people's will.

"We walk a tightrope here," Sen. Bruce Patterson said during a recent Senate Health Policy Committee hearing on stem cell legislation.

The Republican from Wayne County's Canton Township says the Legislature often has to put "flesh on the bones" of a constitutional amendment, but must respect the will of the people while doing so.

Nearly 53 percent of Michigan voters approved loosening restrictions on the research that scientists say could lead to breakthroughs in treating spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes, Lou Gehrig's disease, Alzheimer's and other illnesses.

The constitution was changed to allow embryos left over from fertility treatments that otherwise would have been thrown out to be donated for research.

The Senate committee has approved bills that would add reporting requirements for researchers, set up penalties for violations and define terms contained in the constitutional amendment. One measure defines which embryos would be unsuitable for implantation and eligible for donation.

Stem cell researchers say the bill's definition contradicts the intention of Proposal 2 and would prevent the donation of embryos with known genetic defects that scientists most want to study.

Embryonic stem cell supporters note the legislation is supported by Republican Sen. Tom George of Kalamazoo County, Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference -- all vocal opponents of the 2008 ballot proposal.

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