RIP Minnesota House Biosciences Committee

The incoming Republican leadership in the Legislature already is making good on its promises to streamline government.

Last month, GOP officials unveiled a significantly slimmer committees structure, designed to eliminate redundancy and speed the notoriously slow business of making policy and passing laws. One casualty of the slimmer structure will be in the state’s life science community.

The House Committee on Biosciences and Workforce Development, chaired by Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul), will cease to exist when the Legislature reconvenes early next year. The committee’s demise will deprive bioscience advocates of an important, if limited, platform to press their cases in Minnesota.

Some people say, “good riddance.” The committee was not exactly a policy powerhouse and didn’t wield as much influence as, say, transportation or taxes. Mahoney also didn’t do himself any favors when he needlessly attacked the University of Minnesota earlier this summer.

But while the committee lacked stature, it was a tireless advocate for the medical and biotechnology industries in Minnesota, when, until recently, no one really seemed to give a hoot about things like angel investment tax credits and university tech transfer.

Thanks in part to the committee, lawmakers this year passed bills that created $60 million in angel credits and the Minnesota Science and Technology Authority, and doubled the state’s research and development tax credit.

The committee also strongly supported the Elk Run BioBusiness Park, backed by investor Steven Burrill, though even Mahoney admits the jury is still out on that one.

“Whether we have a $1 billion Taj Mahal or a $10 million [link between] the Twin Cities and Rochester, something will be built,” Mahoney said.

But more importantly, the committee kept alive issues championed by LifeScience Alley, BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota and the Minnesota High Tech Association, perhaps giving those organizations more political clout than they would otherwise have had.

Perhaps it’s a testament to the committee’s accomplishments that some people think we no longer need it, given the progress we’ve seen in Minnesota over the last year or so.

I just hope that in their zeal to lower taxes and overhaul government, Republicans still will grant biosciences the proper priority they deserve in a state still struggling to create jobs and nurture high-tech innovation.

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