House votes to ban using MOHELA money for some stem-cell researh

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Gov. Matt Blunt said he will pursue the direct transfer of student loan proceeds to universities.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The House has voted overwhelmingly to make abortions, human cloning and certain types of stem-cell research out of bounds for any money gained by selling some of the assets of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority.

The vote Monday to approve the ban came after a plan failed Friday that would have spent $478 million of MOHELA proceeds for campus construction, health care, debt retirement and business enticements.

Gov. Matt Blunt said Friday he will instead pursue the direct transfer of MOHELA proceeds to universities -- thus keeping the proposed asset sale alive.

Attorneys for MOHELA had advised that legislation was needed to ensure the agency could transfer its money to the state.

House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden said Monday that there could be even more questions about whether MOHELA could transfer money to universities. But Bearden, R-St. Charles, said he has no plans to pursue any amendments clarifying such authority.

Assuming the MOHELA money could be transferred to other entities, a bipartisan group of lawmakers voted 111-43 Monday to amend the restrictive language about its use onto a larger higher education bill designed to give the Coordinating Board for Higher Education more teeth in enforcing its decisions.

Rep. Rachel Bringer, D-Palymra, was joined in defending the need for the amendment by Rep. Wayne Cooper, R-Camdenton. He said the amendment was necessary to prevent MOHELA money from being used for "somatic cell nuclear transfer, which is cloning."

That form of embryonic stem-cell research would be protected under a constitutional amendment proposed for the Nov. 7 ballot that would guarantee all forms of federally allowed stem-cell research could occur in Missouri.

Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee's Summit, said the ban is an attempt to pre-empt the ballot initiative.

"People are going to resolve this question in a rather permanent fashion in a couple of months, so rather than taking up a lot of time on unrelated bills trying to decide this, let the people decide -- it's going to happen anyway," he said.

After adopting the amendment about the use MOHELA proceeds, the House set aside the larger higher education bill.

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