Led by three former governors and several lawmakers, proponents of embryonic stem cell research announced yesterday the creation of a nonprofit group to drum up support across the state, and they urged the governor to put $25 million for such research in his next budget.
They also vowed that a proposal authorizing state funding will make it to the floor next session before any other legislation.
"If it takes everything I have, ... we are going to get this bill past the Senate this year," said state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
During an Annapolis news conference, Hollinger and others announced the creation of Maryland Families for Stem Cell Research, a group that aims to raise awareness and money. It will be led by former Gov. Harry R. Hughes. Former governors William Donald Schaefer and Marvin Mandel are honorary chairmen.
Hughes called on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to dedicate $25 million to stem cell research in his fiscal 2007 budget, pointing to statistics that show a majority of Marylanders support it.
"This issue is really too important for the state of Maryland not to take action," said Hughes, whose wife has Parkinson's disease and son has juvenile diabetes. "Everyone here knows someone who is sick or is dying and needs our help."
Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich spokeswoman, said the governor "has always been supportive of stem cell research." She would not say, however, whether he would put money in his budget for it. "That's not decided at this point," she said.
The debate over embryonic stem cell research was one of the most divisive of the last legislative session. Supporters worked until the last hour of the final day to maneuver a proposal through Hollinger's committee. But a filibuster threat ultimately sank the bill, which supporters believe would have had the votes for passage. A similar measure did pass in the House.
"If there's going to be a filibuster, let them get it out of their system," Hollinger told reporters after the news conference. She added, "Maybe stem cells will find a cure for filibusters."
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Somerset County Republican and the Senate minority leader, helped lead opposition to the stem cell bill. He said yesterday that he isn't sure whether the issue will be addressed similarly next session.
"There is a changing political climate within the Republican Party" on this issue, Stoltzfus said. "So I really don't know where the caucus is. ... I hope they're willing to filibuster it."
The issue has polarized Congress as well. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee stunned colleagues last month when he announced his support for legislation that would allow the use of federal funding for research using embryos.
In contrast, and in keeping with the beliefs of his conservative base, President Bush's support for federal funding for stem cell research is limited to existing stem cell lines.
Ehrlich waited until the end of the 2005 session to declare his support for stem cell research.
Proponents of Maryland's bill showed yesterday that they will continue to use human stories to forward their cause and to lobby the governor. Hollinger, Hughes and Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, were flanked by people suffering from illness or injury.
Van Brooks, a 17-year-old Loyola High School senior, broke his neck in two places during a football game last fall. Haley Koschko, 5, of Perry Hall has juvenile diabetes. She starts first grade this fall.
And John Kellermann, 51, of Towson discovered he had Parkinson's 13 years ago.
"I have had Parkinson's for as long as I have watched my son grow into a teenager," he said.
After he spoke, his son Jake, 13, stepped forward to read a poem about hope that the family found online. But he broke down in tears after uttering a few words. His mother took over: "Do you know what hope is? It's the dreaming of tomorrow. It's pushing past the impossible. It's questioning the answer."