Representative Jon Riki Karamatsu
Third Reading House Floor Speech
House Bill No. 2034, House Draft 3
Relating to Bioprospecting
Tuesday, March 9, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition.
House Bill 2034, House Draft 3 prohibits the conveyance of the rights, interests, and title to biological resources and biological diversity identified upon or collected from public lands. Currently, the University of Hawaii (UH) has many programs and partnerships to research life sciences. With this prohibition, we will see the departure of biotechnology companies and research companies, as well as universities and other research institutes partnering with UH. As a result, Hawaii will lose revenue, grants, and jobs. Moreover, Hawaii will lose research needed to preserve endangered species, control invasive species, preserve fragile ecosystems, and discover potential drugs and vaccines.
There are many parts of this bill that will hurt research in Hawaii. Specifically, in Section 1 of the bill, reference to “prohibit the conveyance of rights, interest, and title to the biological resources and biological diversity identified upon or collected from public lands” needs to be removed. In addition, Section 3 should be deleted in its entirety because the first paragraph again prohibits the conveyance of rights. The University of Hawaii will be tremendously affected by this prohibition because it has numerous agreements with other entities to do research. How can other scientists research UH's biological materials if they do not have the right to research it? There were concerns regarding contract restrictions. However, restrictions are necessary to protect intellectual property. If intellectual property gets into the wrong hands, research would be at risk and companies partnering with UH could be seriously affected. Presently, the University can license the use of material, but still retain ownership. This bill will prevent UH from partnering with experts that could further the University's potential in the field of living science.
Why should we hurt our University further when they are already struggling to bring research here? UH already has to compete against universities located in areas that are friendly to research, science, and technology. In this past Sunday's Honolulu Advertiser dated March 7, 2004, the University of Hawaii placed 81st out of 84 universities in terms of technological strength, defined by the number of patents obtained and references to an institution's scientific papers, according to a 2002 scorecard of university research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Review Magazine. That same year, UH ranked 99th among 141 universities in terms of technology transfer, according to the magazine. UH generated just $300,000 in licensing income compared to other universities that generated millions of dollars in licensing revenue.
The language in the second paragraph of Section 3 states, “nothing in this section shall be interpreted to prevent the State from entering into joint research or commercial development agreements.” However, this language means nothing because the bill's prohibitory text will still stop research.
Another concern is the lopsided composition of the members in establishing the bioprospecting advisory commission as stated in section 4 of the bill. Out of thirteen members, only two members are to be from the scientific community and only one member is to be from the biotechnology industry. Just looking at the numbers, the scientific and biotechnology community is clearly underrepresented.
Furthermore, the power of the commission is questionable. Specifically, the commission shall identify and develop the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. This will allow the commission to take a percentage of benefits from entities performing research on public lands. Who will get this “equitable sharing”? Will it be the State of Hawaii? Will it be special interest groups? What percentage will be taken from these agreements between the University and other entities? Unfortunately, the bill is silent on this. Such a policy will scare researchers away from this highly competitive arena and instead, researchers will go to other places in the world. And as I mentioned earlier, the University of Hawaii ranks near the bottom of American schools when it comes to bringing research to their respective locations.
Also, the commission shall conduct an inventory of current biotechnology research projects and activities. The University of Hawaii currently has mechanisms in place to have an inventory of biological research materials and track their movement both inside and outside of their campuses. Internally, the University's Biological Safety Office maintains records of all controlled biological material. In addition, UH researchers are required to obtain permits from appropriate state and federal agencies to sample in the field and should any biological material be transferred outside the University in the course of scholarly research, it may be done under the terms of a Material Transfer Agreement from the Univeristy of Hawaii Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development. There is no text in the bill protecting the privacy of participating entities once inventory is released to the commission.
Taking this closer to home, House Bill 2034, House Draft 3 will hurt higher education and jobs in Hawaii. Lets not forget about our students studying life sciences and biotechnology in higher education institutes hoping to get a job in Hawaii. What about all our young grade school students taking math and science classes? What do we tell a child dreaming of becoming a great scientist? I am sorry, but if you want to be a participant in the life science and biotechnology arena, go to another location? In public, we politicians proudly encourage research to protect our environment and find cures for our diseases. We are quoted in the media that we are doing all we can to diversify our economy. Well, this measure does not reflect our public statements.
According to University of Hawaii Interim Vice President for Research, James R. Gaines, if enacted, this bill would put a significant amount of the UH's $324 million (2003) in extramural research funding at risk and would preclude the submission of many grant proposals currently under development. Federally funded programs such as EPSCoR that reach across our state to build capacity attracting federal funding that puts graduate student researchers into our public schools, would cease to exist. University of Hawaii researcher Donald Thomas stated in his testimony, “The legislation as presented would most certainly have a negative impact on the ability of one of Hawaii's premier biotechnology research facilities: the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii.” He further stated, “This would devastate not only the biotechnology research and development currently underway in Hawaii, but would also severely impact research in Biology, Zoology, Geology, Geophysics, and Tropical Agriculture – the list is endless.” In his testimony, Cornell University Professor James K. Liebherr said, “I oppose the bill strictly on scientific grounds, as it would temporarily, at least, stop natural history research in Hawaii – except on private or Federal lands – at a time when we desperately need to learn more about biodiversity in order to learn how to manage it.” Leeward Community College Associate Professor Priscilla Millen wrote to me explaining that her horticulture and botany class, propagation center, community workshops, and programs with the Department of Education will be stopped dead in its track if this measure is passed.
In regards to jobs, we politicians talk about how we want good paying jobs and how we would like to see Hawaii's talent remain here. Well, this bill will do the opposite. In the Finance Committee hearing, Ann Chung, Executive Director of the Hawaii Technology Trade Association stated, “Our local technology and research companies are doing significant and life-enhancing research to discover potential drugs and vaccines for such things as dengue fever and anthrax. This prohibition would simply stop these companies in their tracks.”
Lets talk about how prohibition on bioprospecting will undermine investments in Hawaii's biotechnology research. Hawaii's academic institutions invest approximately $60 million on life science research and development annually. Further, the Legislature allotted $150 million of tobacco settlement funds for revenue bonds to finance the first phase of the Kaka'ako medical school facility, which will be occupied as early as 2005 and include a 216,000-square-foot research facility and a 138,000-square-foot education and administration building. This undertaking is projected to generate $80 million to $100 million into the state annual revenues and create 1,000 new jobs. If this bill passes, all these investments will go to waste.
After three hearings before four committees in the Hawaii State House of Representatives, proponents for House Bill 2034 have held their ground in keeping “prohibitory” and “equitable sharing of benefits” language in the bill. I agree with the University of Hawaii that there needs to be oversight on life science research. However, this bill will hurt valuable research and place Hawaii in a standstill as the world passes us by in education, technology, and economics. The parties involved in this issue are on opposite ends and have not moved towards the middle. From the hard-line stance I witnessed by proponents of the bill in two hearings, I suggest that the respective parties come back to the legislature when they are ready for a compromise. Some time ago, Governor John Burns explained how in politics, rather than see things in black and white, we must work in shades of gray. Likewise, the proponents of this bill must work towards a compromise, in the shades of gray.
Mr. Speaker, I entered politics with a dream of seeing Hawaii thriving in knowledge and innovation. When I say this, I really do mean it. It is for these reasons, I will be voting “no” on this measure. Thank you.