JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House narrowly approved an amendment that would prohibit embryonic stem-cell research from being funded by University of Missouri System grants, attached in a bill which would increase five-fold the amount of money UM curators can grant for research on spinal cord injuries.
Before the full House overwhelmingly voted to raise available grants to $250,000, up from $50,000, Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, was narrowly able to add on an amendment that would prohibit any funding recipient from using money on embryonic stem-cell research, which she said "kills children."
The 77-73 vote split party lines, with a number of mostly rural Democrats supporting the amendment with many Republicans voting no, including bill sponsor Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, and Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin. One of the supportive Democrats was Rep. Rachel Bringer of Palmyra, who said it would clearly redefine acceptable norms for UM-funded research.
"Tremendous numbers of Missourians are very concerned about what medical research we do," Bringer said. "We have to make sure we set limits for the moral values of our state."
Hobbs said he feared the "superfluous" amendment would make the state less attractive to researchers and said it was puzzling that she would amend something that is already prohibited, or that could at least be stopped in the appropriations process.
"I think there's a lot of us trying to figure out what (Sander) was doing," Hobbs said. "I know I still am."
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the amendment does nothing that isn't already in state law other than to "pander" to hard-line social conservatives.
"This creates the impression that we, in this state, are out of our minds," Kelly said. "There's no reason to approve this but to play to the most extreme instincts of some of our citizens."
While Hobbs opposed the amendment, he said he didn't think it would be enough to hamper the main effects of the bill, which passed 150-3. Hobbs said it would be a major economic boon to research facilities, namely in Columbia. The region's representatives spoke strongly in favor of the bill, saying it is a boon for MU researchers.
Hobbs said increasing the grant money was critical to attracting private researchers to come work with public universities across the state, including the campuses in Rolla, Kansas City and St. Louis.
"We can't get people to apply for these grants because right now they are too low," Hobbs said. "Raising this cap will make us a lot more competitive and give a boost to our research economy."
Hobbs said he was more concerned about the fact it still needs to be reconciled with the Senate-passed version, which doesn't have an amendment similar to Sander's. The Senate and the House must hold a conference committee next to work out a compromise on such differences between their versions of the bill.
"There is still a lot more discussing left to do," Hobbs said, adding that he will speak Tuesday with Senate sponsor Bill Stouffer, R-Napton. "What the final bill will look like, I don't know. But I know that today was a great step forward."