Stem cell foe named chair of science panel

The new head of the state House Committee on Science and Technology is a social conservative who has used a moral compass to question scientific research, but who says he knows the importance biotechnology has on the state’s economy.

Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, has previously led efforts to ban research on embryonic stem cells and sponsored a bill making it illegal to implant people with microchips against their will.

Setzler, beginning his fifth term in the House, is also a frequent sponsor of bills to restrict abortions. The 42-year-old is an engineer and retired Army Ranger.

His appointment has left some in the industry and at the Capitol concerned that Setzler would use that moral compass to block further advances in the bioscience industry.

Setzler declined to address those concerns directly, but said he looks forward to working with industry leaders.

“I recognize the vital importance of the biotech industry to the state of Georgia and appreciate the impact that biotech innovators in Georgia are having worldwide,” Setzler said.

Made up of private companies, research universities and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the life sciences industry in Georgia employs more than 90,000 people and has a $20 billion annual economic impact, according to industry estimates.

Many in the industry, fearful of legislative reprisals for public criticism, would not question the appointment for the record. A spokesman for Georgia Tech, a leading source of bio-research in the state, referred questions to the House.

David Dodd, a biotech entrepreneur with investments in Georgia, said one appointment does not concern him. On stem cell research, specifically, Dodd said the science has advanced to the point that adult stem cells are as useful for the research and are much less controversial.

“The (question) is, is someone going to be supportive of the overall progress and innovation to better help us understand human biology,” Dodd said.

Setzler is known at the Capitol as a serious and thoughtful lawmaker. Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, a member of the committee, said she will wait to see how Setzler performs as chairman.

“I assume the Science and Technology Committee will continue its good work on supporting the industries under Chairman Setzler,” she said. “We know that intellectual capital in the biosciences are important parts of our economic development goals, and I assume the committee will not spend time on the conservative social agenda issues.”