By Don C. Reed

Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown has just vetoed Assembly Bill 714, (Wieckowski, D-Fremont) which would have restored one million dollars to the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.

A mistake was made. The Governor has an avalanche of bills to decide, and he is only human.

But it was unquestionably an error.

California needs small research model bills, seed money to help new scientists just starting out, as well as established giants in the field, who may need the encouragement of a small grant to try something new.

In practical terms, “Roman’s Law”, inspired by my paralyzed son, was revenue-positive.

Of how many laws can it be said that they bring in more money than they cost?

California’s small paralysis research program cost only $15.1 million (over ten years) —and brought in $84 million in new money for the state. How many investments bring in more than five dollars for every one they cost?

More importantly, it brought cure closer for California’s 644,000 paralyzed children and adults. The results it produced were spectacular.

You’ve heard about the paralyzed rats that walked again, the success that made the paralyzed Superman Christopher Reeve say, “Oh, to be a rat!”

Those were our rats.

You heard about the incredible beginnings of advanced stem cell research to cure paralysis? Those were our projects, begun long before the magnificent Prop71 made California the stem cell capitol of the world.

Mostly, though we took the small non-stemcell steps that must be done, the “everything else” necessary for paralysis alleviation, rehabilitation, and improvement of quality of life.

We fought against the agony of chronic pain, against blood pressure irregularities that can kill, against pressure sores that can rot to the bone: and much more.

We turned nickels and dimes into million dollar progress.

But the recession hit, and those nickels and dimes were denied us. In 2010, the program was renewed—but without funding. So, we tried again.

In 2011, we tried for a traffic ticket add-on ($3 per ticket) to fund the research. The Assembly finance committee vetoed that, not liking the funding source.

In 2012, we tried for a smaller (one dollar per traffic ticket) increase, and won a narrow victory in both houses—but Governor Brown did not like our funding mechanism, and vetoed it, saying the research should be funded by the General Fund.

In 2013, this year, we had a roaring success in the legislature, passing both houses almost unanimously, passing the Assembly 68-3, and the Senate 39-0. Out of both houses, only three legislators voted against us.

Also, we altered our bill to meet Governor Brown’s objection to the previous bills, requesting that it be paid for from the General Fund.

Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed it again.

Paralyzed Americans—five and a half million of them, each as important to their families as my son is to me—lost another year of progress.

What was the reason for the veto? I do not know. As of this writing I have not seen the Governor’s veto message.

One speculation is that there was jealousy of the University of California, which has benefited from our program in the past. Our program is administered by the UC system, and the funding often goes to UC graduate students starved for research funds, who often cannot get it any other way. Some people thing we over-fund the California educational system; but as a former teacher, I definitely disagree—not to mention the UC system just took a billion dollar (Billion) cut.

A more likely possibility is that with the President’s Affordable Care Act under constant attack, it is natural for the fighters for health care to lose track of one small bill.

But there could not have been a more supportive Senate and Assembly.  California Republicans and Democrats came together on this issue, shaking hands across the aisle. If only Washington cooperated like Sacramento did on AB 714!

And now, what should we do? I only know one answer: what the coal miner said, when asked he could go down into the darkness of the mine six days a week, working in the choking cold and dust each day, not coming up until after the sun was gone. He said it was simple, just, “put one foot in front of the other.”

This will be no different.

Next year, the California Assembly and the Senate—and the Governor—will be asked once again to fund the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.

We’ll do it next year and the year after that, and the year after that, however many years it takes.

That is how we do it in California. As long as there is life, that long do we keep fighting. We will keep going back to Sacramento until my son walks again— and when that happens, the research will have cleared the way for millions of others to stand up from their wheelchairs, and walk away from them forever.

To paraphrase another Governor of California, that great supporter of research Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said in the classic movie TERMINATOR:

“We’ll be back.”

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