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Massachusetts Legislature Takes Step Closer to Passing $1B Life Sciences Bill

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - Leaders of the Massachusetts House of Representatives predict they are weeks away from approving $1 billion in subsidies over 10 years to the state’s life sciences sector, following their introduction last week of a revised version of the measure introduced over the summer by Gov. Deval Patrick.

The revised bill — officially entitled “An Act Providing for the Investment in and Expansion of the Life Sciences Industry in the Commonwealth” — retains the proportions of spending envisioned by Patrick: $500 million in bonds for capital investments such as facilities and life sciences equipment; $250 million on fellowships, research grants, and workforce training programs; and $250 million on tax credits targeted to life sciences companies that fulfill job-creation promises.

But House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (D-South Boston) and other leaders of the chamber left their stamp on Patrick’s bill by earmarking parts of the bill’s money for a host of projects designed to benefit many of the state’s largest life sciences employers, as well as the set of projects Patrick intended to fund at the state-funded University of Massachusetts. UMass will receive more than $200 million, or one-fifth of the bill’s total proceeds, for various projects.

The House leaders said their revised bill would better serve the state’s life sciences industry, while fulfilling the governor’s promise — made last May from the floor of the 2007 Biotechnology Industry Organization Global Convention, held in Boston — that Massachusetts would stem what industry leaders and advocates say has been an erosion of the state’s top-tier life sciences cluster.

“Massachusetts is a world leader in the life sciences industry, and this investment will help keep us there for years to come,” DiMasi said in a press release last week announcing the revised legislation.

Among the measures tucked into the revised bill is a 2 percent tax credit for life science companies if they locate within distressed or “Economic Opportunity” areas, as well as $45 million to fund bridge loans by life sciences companies seeking to expand their R&D, manufacturing, and commercialization efforts. The state would also match the funding companies receive under the US Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

DiMasi joined with Rep. Daniel Bosley (D-North Adams), chairman of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, and other House leaders, in announcing the changes at a Feb. 14 press conference. The bill will be sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, typically the last stop for legislation headed to the floor of the House, where DiMasi announced he will schedule debate on the bill the week of Feb. 25.

The actual debate may come a few days later, Bosley told GenomeWeb Daily News sister publication BioRegion News, since lawmakers will be off that week.

Whenever it begins, the debate is expected to produce a House vote in favor, followed by action in the Senate.

A comprehensive version of this article will appear in tomorrow's issue of BioRegion News.
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