Friday, April 24, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for April 24-30, 2009‏

DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everyone! We have reached the point in the 2009 session where every bill still alive has passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives, albeit in different forms.

Before any bill can go to the governor, it must pass both the Senate and House in identical form. The remaining four weeks of session will be devoted to hammering out those final versions.

The most important job of the Legislature each year – writing the state budget – is largely undone. This, to me, is very strange as we face a significant budget shortfall.

Cuts will be unavoidable; the challenge is to ensure the cuts do not unduly impact state services on which Oklahomans depend. I certainly hope during the final four weeks of session, more attention must be given to what should have been “job number one.”

Dozens of bills were considered by the Senate each day this past week. There simply are too many to mention, but I do want to share with you one measure that could mean big benefits for Oklahoma families.

Last year I passed a bill that created the Oklahoma umbilical cord blood bank. That would allow new parents to bank the umbilical cord blood from the birth of a child.

Umbilical cord blood, which is currently discarded as medical waste after the birth of a healthy baby, is rich in adult stem cells which can be used to treat a variety of diseases. More than 70 maladies that can be treated through therapies developed with adult stem cells.

It is beyond the financial means of most Oklahoma families to privately bank umbilical cord blood. A fully-funded public cord blood bank would allow every family who chooses to do so to bank cord blood, ensuring a wider genetic diversity of available adult stem cells.

Because of the budget shortfall, we have been struggling to find a funding mechanism for the cord blood bank. This week, a possible solution appeared as we considered a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Oklahoma voters to direct up to 10 percent of the Tobacco Trust Fund to pay for adult stem cell research.

I proposed an amendment that would allow the money to be used to fund the start-up of the cord blood bank as well. Given the fact the proposed amendment would allow Tobacco Trust money to be spent on adult stem cell research, it just makes sense to allow the money to be spent on the most efficient means of gathering adult stem cells.

The amended bill was approved and sent to a conference committee where a final version will be worked out. It is my hope the funding for the cord blood bank survives the conference committee; it would be a great first step in helping families fight more than 70 disorders today, and countless more in the years ahead.

Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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