Biotechnology Caucus To Get Under Way

January 21, 2008
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LANSING — With Michigan looking to the life sciences business for help in crawling out of its economic trough, a new Biotechnology Legislative Caucus is expected to start meeting this month.

Stephen Rapundalo, executive director of 230-member trade group MichBio, said he’s looking forward to working with the eight-member caucus, to be chaired by state Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe. State Reps. David Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, and Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, are members.

The membership includes legislators from areas such as Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, where the life sciences have been important for some years, as well as members of committees that can have a big impact on the sector, such as appropriations, Rapundalo said.

While the caucus was announced last fall at the annual MichBio Expo, it was unable to meet until this month, thanks to Lansing’s preoccupation with budget and business tax issues, he added. The first meeting will be devoted to organizational issues.

Hildenbrand said he believes biotechnology is key to the diversification of Michigan’s economy.

“It deals with many areas: health care, agriculture, renewable energy. Those industries are growing, and Michigan needs a Legislature that will do everything we can to support them,” he said.

The caucus also can look at ways to support biotech through laws and regulations, and can consider incentives such as special tax breaks for related businesses, he said.

“As it turns out, the legislative caucus idea is one that is emerging across the country with other state life sciences organizations,” Rapundalo added.

“We’re actually one of the first ones. Only a handful of states have this, and most have only put these groups in place in the last year.”

He said he hopes MichBio and its members can serve as “educational tools” for caucus members, who in turn could share their new knowledge about life sciences with their colleagues.

Rapundalo said it’s none too soon for a Michigan life sciences caucus, with a set of issues either before the Legislature or rumored to be there soon. Among those issues are: drug pricing, clinical trial registries, immunity laws and drug pedigree, which is tracking drugs through the supply chain from manufacture to the patient’s lips.

“We’re hearing rumors there might be legislation introduced on that,” he said.

Hildenbrand said he thinks that during 2008 the caucus may weigh in on a pending package of energy bills and an anticipated look at water-bottling companies.

While the caucus is open to any legislators, members in addition to Richardville, Hildenbrand and Huizenga are: Reps. Robert Jones, D-Kalamazoo, and Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, and state Sens. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, Tony Stamas, R-Midland, and Gretchen Whitmer, D-Lansing.

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