Fetal tissue research showdown

Political Beat

Is the Republican drive to limit research using fetal tissue a product of the gerrymandered Wisconsin Legislature? Republicans have a partisan lock on the Legislature thanks to boundary lines they drew in 2011.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said the full Assembly may take up the issue in the October session. An Assembly committee has advanced a bill barring use of new lines of fetal tissue. It would be a felony to use such tissue for research if the bill becomes law.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank told a University of Wisconsin Board of Regents meeting it would drastically affect UW-Madison, driving away top researchers and hurting the reputation of the campus. “This is a direct hit,” she said.

The UW’s promising biomedical researchers will go to other universities if their work can’t be done at Madison, Blank said. She noted that the impact also would be felt in interdisciplinary research. If the teams are broken up with departures, other researchers will go elsewhere, she said.

State Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) is optimistic the legislation will be enacted this fall. He said his Republican colleagues are concerned about the university’s efforts in opposing the measure. He accused UW officials of making “ridiculous” statements in their lobbying.

The pending legislation provides an interesting challenge for Gov. Scott Walker. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the chief business lobby and long an ally of the governor, is opposing the measure. But the anti-abortion groups in the state that support the bill also have supported Walker at election time.

Republicans have solid majorities in both the Assembly and the state Senate, thanks in part to favorable district boundary lines they created in 2011. Those gerrymandered districts mean incumbent GOP legislators face greater elective threats in primaries than from Democrats in general elections.

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