Monday, October 18, 2010

Legislator Spotlight: Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo)

Assemblyman Jerry Hill
Jerry Hill was elected to the California State Assembly in November 2008. In Sacramento, Assemblyman Hill has demonstrated an ability to reach across party lines. This year, 19 out of his 20 bills approved by the Legislature and sent to the governor received bi-partisan support. Hill chairs the Majority Caucus in the Assembly and is a member of Speaker Perez' leadership team, where he is responsible for negotiating key issues and guiding legislative priorities. As chair of the Select Committee on Biotechnology and as a member of the Committee on Improving State Government, Hill has tirelessly tackled some of the most pressing issues facing San Mateo County and California, including government efficiency and economic development. He is working closely with transportation officials and residents on issues related to the construction of a high-speed rail through San Mateo County. He has also assumed a leadership role in the investigation of the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion and in the shaping of a legislative response.

Hill’s district includes the cities of Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Daly City, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Hillsborough, Millbrae, Pacifica, San Bruno, San Mateo, South San Francisco and parts of unincorporated San Mateo County.

Q: As a legislator from San Mateo County, your interest in the biomedical industry seems quite natural. How do you promote the value of the industry to your colleagues in other parts of the state that may not have as strong a biomedical presence?

A: It’s important to start, initially, with the tremendous benefit that’s derived from the industry. I’ve been to BioMarin Pharmaceutical in Marin County, Exelixis in South San Francisco, UCSF, Edwards Lifesciences in Irvine, Life Technologies in San Diego, etc. With each one comes the realization of the life-saving products, devices and therapies, that are being developed through this industry.

The first part is making sure my colleagues and members of the Legislature are aware of what is actually happening in California. It’s important that they know these companies exist and how crucial the therapies and devices that they manufacture are to modern medicine. Each one of them should be able to identify someone in their family who has benefitted from this, whether it’s a cancer therapy from Genentech or a heart valve from Edwards Lifesciences.

Q: Do you see the potential for ramping up California's biomedical manufacturing capacity in communities hard hit by the recession in the interior parts of the state?

A: I see that as a real potential, however, I also see our tax structure as a deterrent to that. One of the stories that I tell repeatedly is the fact that Genentech, obviously a homegrown San Mateo County company, built a facility in the last year in Hillsboro, Oregon. What we’ve lost is the benefit, to some extent. When these companies begin they are local. They have local roots, they generally have families in the Bay Area and people don’t want to leave.

In this economic downturn, the biomedical sector is one of the only areas that actually increased in employment. Once legislators see the lifesaving benefit, then they can also see the economic benefit in terms of good, high paying jobs.

Q: Let's discuss Prop. 24. As you know, California has had difficulties in attracting and retaining existing companies, let alone developing missed opportunities such as biomedical manufacturing. How do you think Prop. 24 plays into that conversation?

A: I certainly don’t support it. I think its bad public policy. When I explain to anyone how the current tax structure works, in practicality, people say, “You’re kidding.” They ask, “Build a bigger plant, hire more employees, pay more money and I’m going to pay more income tax?” And, I say, “Yes, that’s true.” They don’t believe it; they think it’s crazy. But, sadly, that’s not how it’s playing out in the press or in the campaign. The biomedical business is unique. And, that’s the other part we have to convince my colleagues about, the uniqueness of biomedical industry. That it takes 10 to 15 years for a therapeutic to be developed, a billion and a half dollars and, at the end of the day, the odds of producing a successful therapy are slim.

Q: What can the biomedical industry do to better educate legislators and others about the value of our work?

A: To me, it’s a matter of communication, and I think the industry has done a good job of being there and involving legislators on issues that are important to them.

I was in Sacramento the other day and Johnson & Johnson had an exhibit at the California Museum on their biomedical devices. It was open to staff members and I went because of my involvement and interest. That’s what’s important and what I hope to work with the industry on early next session, to bring the industries either here or to organize road trips to their locations.

To sit at Edwards and watch 400 employees making heart valves, that take eight hours to make, is phenomenal. I think you have to see that and really understand the magnitude of the industry and the benefit that it brings to this state.

We have to do this early, instead of six months or a year later when this legislation affects them. By then, it’s too late.

Q: Talk a little about the importance of STEM education. I know you pushed to restore cuts to UC and CSU as part of the budget negotiations. How well are we funding science education?

A: We have done a poor job, lately, in supporting and funding science education in California, especially at the K-12 level. We don’t compensate teachers enough to bring highly trained people into the field to teach science at a level we need to develop an educated workforce. Fortunately, we have a higher education system that has been able to attract from all over the world. That is truly our lifeblood for sustaining our leadership in the sciences. We want it to be homegrown, though, and we have to put the resources to develop better science education in our K-12 and sustain it at the college level.

Q: What do you consider some of your biggest accomplishments as the Chair of the Select Committee on Biotechnology?

A: I think the biggest accomplishments have been that we have really done what we have set out to do, which is highlight the industry, to really look at it from a number of areas.

We were able to educate, inform and enlighten colleagues on the value of the industry, which is, I think the most important part. Because of term limits and how fast time flies, people don’t realize that every two years a third of that Legislature changes.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

Bookmark and Share

No comments: