The Associated Press reported:
Alex Dingman wrote:
LAWRENCE — When the first widespread computer virus was born, government didn’t shut down all computer science research. Similarly, now that synthetic biology, a field of science that uses standardized pieces of DNA to build new life forms, medications, industrial processes and biological systems, is growing rapidly, it should not be overregulated at the cost of future innovations, a University of Kansas law professor says.
Andrew Torrance, professor of law and Docking Faculty Scholar, has co-authored a new study on synthetic biology, intellectual property and the standards that govern the field with Linda Kahl of the BioBricks Foundation, the leading synthetic biology institution. It has been published in the Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal, and it is based on a 2012 study Torrance was commissioned by the National Academies to prepare.
Synthetic biology is being used to design new medications to fight malaria, is developing radically new technologies such as a television in which yeast cells genetically engineered to bioluminesce act as the television’s pixels, produce biological computers and create living organisms from raw organic chemicals. Yet there is also concern that this “dual use” technology could be used with malicious intent to design new forms of disease pathogens or that there could be accidents.
“From its founding the synthetic biology community has been concerned about ensuring safety, health and ethical practices,” said Torrance, who holds a doctorate in biology from Harvard. “The community has explicitly committed itself to uses of the technology that benefit humanity and avoidance of uses that could endanger public safety, especially those with nefarious purposes.”
In the study, Torrance and Kahl examine all of the proposed standards that have been proposed to regulate synthetic biology, including standards regarding structure, function and description of genetic components, data sharing, biosecurity and law. In fact, several years ago the BioBricks Foundation asked Torrance to contribute to the early drafting of a sort of “legal constitution” for synthetic biology, called the BioBricks Public Agreement, intended to ensure the safe and beneficial invention and use of standard biological parts.
Torrance and Kahl also consider the effects that intellectual property rights may have on encouraging or discouraging research in the burgeoning field. Like other areas of biotechnology, there is no federal statute specifically designed to govern synthetic biology. Instead, an influential regulation called the Coordinated Framework assigns agencies such as the FDA, EPA and USDA with shared responsibility for ensuring safe practices. One unique factor of synthetic biology is the degree to which its research community has engaged in careful self-regulation to keep the field open, democratic and safe, Torrance said. As the science progresses and the methods and raw materials of synthetic biology become ever more available, practicable and attractive to citizen biologists in the general public, Torrance expects that trend continuing.
“I see synthetic biology becoming further democratized — something that almost anyone with a modest biological background can become involved in,” Torrance said. “Just as software programming became a common and widespread skill in which millions of people now participate, programming DNA, designing new biological machines and constructing novel organisms is rapidly leaving the confines of professional laboratories and entering the home laboratories of citizen biotinkerers.”
However, as more people get involved in a field that builds new organisms and puts together building blocks of DNA, there is understandably a concern for accidents or misuse. The field has been very open in its dealings, even regularly working cooperatively with FBI agents specifically assigned to monitor the field. The field uses an open science ethos, arguing that its knowledge should be available to all, and that the more people who take part, the broader the knowledge base that can be built, and more potential there is both for beneficial discoveries and for detecting and preventing malicious uses.
There is also debate as to whether the field is a threat to traditional drug development companies and whether the ability to patent DNA can effectively prevent people outside of large corporations and major university research labs to take part. There are yet to be good answers to those questions, such as whether a fear of being sued will stifle innovation by individuals in the field, as the science is still only about a decade old. Torrance suggests that answers will come as evidence accumulates and legal conflicts multiply.
While there has yet to be an overwhelming push by policymakers or the public to write new laws or create new standards governing the field, the potential for accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl may exist.
“It is too early to know precisely what roles law will play in the development of synthetic biology and its innovations,” Torrance said. “However, since law will certainly influence the evolution of synthetic biology, it is vital to think carefully and strategically about constructive roles law should play in ensuring beneficial innovation, biosafety and sound ethical practices.
“As the field of synthetic biology explodes there will be an increasing number of success stories, but along with these, there will almost certainly be accidents, ethical breaches and malicious misuses. It is vitally important to create a legal framework that fosters the benefits of this technology while vigilantly guarding against bad behavior. It is exceedingly difficult to develop any new technology if you’re not willing to take some risks. The only way to eliminate risk entirely is to eliminate innovation. Wise laws can help assure that the great promise of synthetic biology is achieved at minimal risk.”
Peter Hancock wrote,
"Sarah McLinn's defense lawyer plans to argue in court that she cannot be found guilty of first degree murder due to mental illness.
But legal experts say that will be a tough case to make in a Kansas court because of a 1995 law that abolished the so-called 'insanity defense' and replaced it with a much stricter standard.
'It's much harder for the defense,' said Kansas University law professor Melanie Wilson, who teaches criminal law."
. . .
Tyler Kingkade takes on recent assertions from conservative commentators that the campus rape epidemic isn't an epidemic at all.
He wrote, "In research on police prosecution of sexual assaults, Corey Rayburn Yung, an associate law professor at the University of Kansas, concluded that nearly 1 in 4 police departments responsible for populations of at least 100,000 persons are undercounting rape reports."
LAWRENCE — When it comes to debt and bankruptcy, some things never change. While people are no longer imprisoned for failing to pay their debts as England did a century ago, a new article by a University of Kansas law professor shows that the key arguments about enforcing debts or relieving them in bankruptcy have changed very little since then.
Stephen Ware, professor of law, has authored “A 20th Century Debate About Imprisonment for Debt,” which explores the parliamentary debate in England circa 1909 about whether to continue imprisoning debtors and notes how current debates about consumer debt in the United States rest on some very similar arguments. The article will be published by the American Journal of Legal History.
“Many people who settled in the 13 colonies that became the United States were fleeing debts in England, so it’s no surprise that the U.S. ended debtors’ prisons long before England, which continued to use them well into the 20th century,” Ware said.
While the United States has done away with debtors’ prisons, many parallels exist today. For example, debtors who lose lawsuits can be ordered by courts to appear in person to answer questions about their income and assets. If debtors fail to appear at that time and place, they can be held in contempt of court, and an arrest warrant will be issued. The debtor can stop the arrest by agreeing to a payment plan, but if the debtor again misses payments, he or she may be arrested.
“While technically jailed for contempt of court, not the underlying debt, that distinction may be lost on a struggling debtor who cannot afford a lawyer to explain it and advocate for the debtor,” Ware said.
More fundamental parallels connect the England Ware studied with the United States of today. Then and now, when unpaid creditors win a lawsuit, they don’t actually receive money but simply have a legal document (judgment) stating they are owed money. In order to receive payment, some sort of additional pressure on the debtor is often required.
“But what types of pressure should the law permit, and when should debtors be relieved of that pressure by filing for bankruptcy? Those are the perennial questions,” said Ware, who has taught debt-collection and bankruptcy law for more than 15 years.
Today that pressure on judgment debtors often takes the form of wage garnishment. States have varying restrictions on how much, if any, of a person’s wages may be garnished, and there is a federal limit on how much can be withheld as well. Bankruptcy usually ends garnishment and other forms of debt-collection pressure, Ware said, so about 1 million debtors a year file for bankruptcy in the United States. Bankruptcy relief was much less generous in early 20th century England, according to Ware’s article.
In both 1909 England and the United States today, some argue that a typical debtor’s wages and assets should be protected from the collection efforts of creditors, especially those whose business practices seem designed to exploit unsophisticated or desperate borrowers. In contrast, the other side in this perennial debate argues that reducing the pressure on debtors to pay increases lenders’ losses from bad loans and thus makes them less likely to lend to borrowers who lack valuable collateral or strong payment histories.
“Easily available credit for low- and moderate-income borrowers was the key issue in England a century ago and is still central in today’s consumer debt and bankruptcy debates,” Ware said. “In every era, it seems, some argue that a plentiful supply of consumer credit lowers interest rates and helps people borrow in ways that improve their lives, while others argue that it tempts people to live beyond their means — with bad results not just for those debtors unable to pay but also for their families and society as a whole.”
These recurring issues appear in several of Ware’s classes, including bankruptcy and consumer law. While bankruptcy law focuses on relief for those unable to pay their debts, “consumer law generally tries to protect people from incurring too much debt — or the wrong kinds of debt — in the first place,” Ware said.
Consumer law is changing rapidly as a new federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, considers new regulations on several aspects of consumer credit agreements, including consumer arbitration, a topic on which Ware has testified before both houses of Congress and as an expert witness in court.
Consumer credit agreements are now influenced by far more complex regulation and technology than existed in the era of English debtors’ prisons, when credit was usually extended by a local merchant who knew the borrower personally. Today’s credit bureaus electronically track billions of transactions a year and assemble the data on each consumer in detailed reports available to lenders thousands of miles away who allow consumers to apply for credit online.
While more complex regulation and technology create new issues for lawyers, Ware emphasizes that the basic policy questions for lawmakers remain largely the same as they were generations ago.
“Usury law and other regulations of consumer credit agreements have been with us for centuries, and they raise very deep, timeless questions about human nature,” Ware said. “When are people suited to deciding for themselves which legally binding agreements to make, and when do they need lawmakers to restrict their choices so risky options are off the menu? And if lawmakers prohibit certain credit agreements as too risky, does that reduce bad loans or just drive them to a black market?”
Andy Marso wrote:
"Public attention in this year's Kansas secretary of state race has focused largely on voter registration and identification requirements spearheaded by Republican incumbent Kris Kobach.
But in addition to being the state's chief elections officer, the secretary of state also handles business filings, and Kobach and his Democratic challenger Jean Schodorf also are trying to burnish their credentials in that area."
. . .
Karen Dillon and Keith King wrote:
Millions of dollars are missing following the failed purchase of two landmark buildings in downtown Kansas City.
Critics say a Ponzi Scheme drained the pockets of dozens of victims including local power brokers, retirees living on fixed incomes and those with life-threatening illnesses, an investigation by 41 Action News found.
At the center of the defunct deals is Brenda Wood, a business woman from Leavenworth County who owns a small janitorial service that cleans school buildings and other facilities.
. . .
Tim Potter wrote:
"What does the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Michigan case mean for Kansas?
First, keep in mind that it is a narrow ruling, said Richard Levy, a constitutional law professor at the University of Kansas School of Law. The issue, Levy said Tuesday, is whether a ban on affirmative action is constitutional, not whether affirmative action itself is constitutional.