On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Mercer County, Docket No. C-92-07.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Stern, A.A. Rodríguez and C.S. Fisher.
In this appeal, plaintiffs claim that the interpretive statement adopted by the Legislature in seeking voter approval of the New Jersey Stem Cell Research Bond Act of 2007 (the Act), L. 2007, c. 117, inadequately and unfairly describes the question the voters are being asked to decide in the general election to occur on November 6, 2007. In deferring to the choices that the Legislature was entitled to make in crafting this interpretive statement, we conclude that it fairly describes without bias the Act's contents and affirm the dismissal of the complaint.
The Act, according to its preamble, authoriz[es] the creation of a debt of the State of New Jersey by the issuance of bonds of the State in the aggregate principal amount of $450 million for the purpose of financing stem cell research grants, and the costs thereof, for institutions of higher education and other entities in the State conducting scientific and medical research; providing the ways and means to pay and discharge the principal of and interest on the bonds; providing for the submission of this act to the people at a general election; and making an appropriation therefor.
Plaintiffs' complaint does not attack the validity or constitutionality of the Act but instead seeks to prevent its inclusion on the ballot for the general election of November 6, 2007 because, in their view, the Legislature's interpretive statement is inadequate and biased. That is, plaintiffs, who describe themselves in their complaint as citizens, residents and taxpayers of this State, base their request for an injunction, which would prohibit the Act's inclusion on the ballot, on their claim that the Legislature's interpretive statement is "not informative and fair," that it is "unbalanced and biased," and that it will cause voter confusion and uncertainty.
The public question to be considered by the voters on November 6, 2007, as posed by the Act itself, asks:
Shall [the Act], which authorizes the State to issue bonds in the amount of $450 million for grants to fund "stem cell research projects," as defined in the act, at institutions of higher education and other entities in the State conducting scientific and medical research, and providing the ways and means to pay the interest on the debt and also to pay and discharge the principal thereof, provided that recurring revenues of the State are certified by the State Treasurer to be available in an amount equal to the sum necessary to satisfy the annual debt services obligations related to such bonds, be approved?
The interpretive statement authorized to be placed on the ballot pursuant to the Act itself states in full:
Approval of this act would authorize the sale of $450 million in State general obligation bonds to provide grants for stem cell, scientific, and medical research, as defined in the act, at institutions of higher education and other nonprofit and for profit entities in the State conducting scientific and medical research, provided that recurring revenues of the State are certified by the State Treasurer to be available in an amount equal to the sum necessary to satisfy the annual debt service obligations related to such bonds. Grants would be awarded by the Commission on Science and Technology, subject to evaluation by an independent research review panel composed of experts in stem cell and related research and by an independent ethics review panel. If a grant recipient realizes a financial gain or benefit directly associated with the research funded by its grant, the act requires the recipient to make payments to the State in an amount representing a reasonable return on the State's investment, as determined by the State Treasurer. The purpose of providing these funds is to promote research that could benefit State residents afflicted with diseases and severe injuries such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes, Lou Gehrig's disease, Parkinson's disease, sickle cell anemia and spinal cord injuries.
Plaintiffs argue that this interpretive statement fails to meet the standards contained in N.J.S.A. 19:3-6, as illuminated by Gormley v. Lan, 88 N.J. 26 (1981). Their forty-two page complaint, which was filed on September 18, 2007, contains sixteen counts, each of which asserts that the interpretive statement fails to conform to the proper standard because it
1. "fails to inform the voters that the contemplated research will be done on human embryos: human beings created for the specific and sole purpose of being experimented upon and then destroyed";
2. "makes no reference to human cloning, thereby allowing the voters to believe that 'human cloning' or 'cloning of a human being,' however those terms might be defined, is not in any way to be involved in the research to be financed pursuant to the Act";
3. "fails to inform the voters that the purported prohibition of 'human cloning' contained in [L. 2007, c. 117, § 5(e)] is to be interpreted and understood in light of the meaning of 'cloning of a human being' specified by N.J.S.A. 2C:11A-1, which, rather than prohibiting human cloning, in reality allows it 'through the . . . newborn stage'";
4. "fails to inform the voters that [the] prohibition [contained in L. 2007, c. 117, § 5(e)] of the use by an eligible research institution of authorized or available funds for human cloning pertains solely to replicating a human individual by cultivating a cell with genetic material through each and all of the developmental stages specified by N.J.S.A. 2C:11A-1 -- the egg, embryo, fetal and finally newborn stages -- into a new human individual"; fails to inform that "the replication process is stopped short of proceeding through all of those stages and does not culminate in the final stage, [its] prohibition is not offended"; and fails to inform "that the replication process therefore may manipulate the human egg, human embryo and then human fetus in any manner whatsoever, throughout what would otherwise be the entire normal gestational process, as long as the manipulation does not culminate in a newborn child";
5. "fails to inform the voters that the embryonic stem cell research contemplated by the Act requires human eggs, which can be obtained only from women, and that thousands of women will need to undergo egg extraction procedures to provide eggs for such research";
6. "fails to inform the voters that there are serious and substantial risks to women's health posed by the practice of multiple egg extraction to harvest eggs for embryonic stem cell research";
7. "fails to inform the voters that egg extraction is accomplished by means of drugs used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments[,] . . . does not inform the people that pharmaceutical firms have not been required by either the government or physicians to collect safety data for IVF drugs regarding risk of cancer or other serious health conditions despite the drugs having been available in the United States for several decades and that the long-term health risks for women receiving IVF drugs for egg retrieval accordingly are unknown";
8. "fails to inform the voters of the potential short-term and long-term risks associated with the human egg donation that is needed for embryonic stem cell research";
9. "fails to inform the voters that because of the large numbers of human eggs required for embryonic stem cell research and somatic cell nuclear transfer, obtaining those ...