DELAYED BUT NOT DEFEATED:  Paralysis Research Bill Shot Down in Committee

By Don C. Reed

California’s AB 190 (Wieckowski, D-Fremont) has been—at least temporarily—killed in committee.

The bill would have provided funding for the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act. It was denied (without even a public vote) by Appropriations Chairman Felipe Fuentes (D-39).   Apparently, Chairman Fuentes had a philosophical disagreement with the funding mechanism of the bill, a small ($3) penalty add-on to traffic fines. This penalty seemed logical, car crash being a major cause of spinal cord injury.

It only took about ten seconds to shoot down the hopes and dreams of millions of paralysis sufferers.

“AB 190, Wieckowski, would increase traffic fines to fund spinal cord injury research.  Hold in committee.”

Translation: the bill is stopped, at least for now.

Who won?

  1. The anti-research arm of the Religious Right. Because we are in favor of stem cell research, (though we have not funded any since 2008) the Family Research Council (FRC) with its ten million dollar annual budget listed our small bill as one to destroy. They won.

2. The American Automobile Association (triple A) opposed the bill because it fined bad drivers. They won.

3. Bad drivers emerged victorious; their traffic violation fines will not be increased. They won.

Who lost?

  1. Five and a half million paralysis sufferers (including six hundred and fifty thousand Californians)—and people in other countries who might have benefited from research discoveries.  They lost.


2. The families of paralyzed children or adults, those who provide the endless and exhausting physical care for their loved one, or pay to have it done. They lost.

3. American taxpayers lost. So long as paralysis remains incurable, the cost of programs like Medicare and Medi-Cal can only increase. Medical care for just one paralyzed person can cost three to five million dollars—few have that kind of money, so they look to government for help. They lost too–basically, everybody that hopes for cure lost.

Chairman Fuentes is an honorable man, with strict principles. As Appropriations chair, it is his difficult job to oversee any bills having to do with tax money. (I am still not entirely clear on why a bill which had no tax money at all was even seen by his committee, but that was what happened.)

Mr. Fuentes has a philosophical stance that he does not approve of funding government by fees or fines. A reasonable position, to be sure.

But does not every rule have an exception? Even a strict vegetarian might eat meat if they were starving, and a little flexibility would have been appreciated. Certainly, we met the chair’s objections more than half-way—we offered a 2/3 compromise, cutting back from $3 to $1. We even had an “opt-out” provision, so any county which did not like the program could choose not to participate.

Our offers were ignored.

But something Chairman Fuentes said at the hearing really stuck with me.

First, he said that never in memory had California legislators asked for proportionately so little money— roughly $1.5 billion in new programs—and of that, only $60 million would be approved by his committee.

He also said (and just for a second, his glance flicked to Roman in his wheelchair) that “programs would only be funded the right way”— the right way? What does that mean?

Consider what California faces today.

Under the present tax law, (Prop 13) our state cannot really tax the rich any more, no matter how fabulously wealthy they become, nor how great the need.  Prop 13 requires a 2/3 majority to increase any taxes whatsoever, and Republicans take a pledge to never support any new taxes, no matter what. This allows a small number of Republicans to block the will of the majority.

It’s great if you are rich, but sometimes not too wonderful for the rest of us.

So if we cannot use tax money– and the Chair won’t let us penalize bad drivers who may cause paralysis—  what exactly is “the right way” to fund paralysis cure research?

What legislative path would Chairman Fuentes suggest? This is not a rhetorical question, I genuinely want to know. Because our bill will be coming back, one way or another, and I need to find a way to earn the Chairman’s support.

If we can’t use taxes, and he won’t let us use fines—what are we supposed to do?

Maybe you could ask him too.  Here is his website.

I would appreciate it if you sent him a brief email, asking him why he denied AB 190, the zero-tax funding source for the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act, and what changes would he require to let the bill survive his committee?

Also, if you live in Chairman Fuentes’ district, consider writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, asking him what better alternative could he come up with, since he shot down AB 190?

Even if you don’t live in his district, here is the biggest newsweekly in his area.

I will be writing letters questioning the decision, and maybe you would help with one as well.

For example, this letter from my friend Ray Lee, a Parkinson’s advocate in Arizona, who asked:

“Why did  the committee prevent AB  190 from going forward?  What were the arguments against a  $3.00 fine for speeders?  Who was against it? In the  1960’s I volunteered in the spinal cord injury ward of a Long Beach California hospital.  Do patients have to wait another half century for help?
Rayilyn Brown
Past Director AZNPF
Arizona Chapter National Parkinson Foundation

So what comes next?

We try again. We can fail as many times as needed, so long as we eventually win.

Fortunately, the leader of our bill, Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) has the vision and the strength to carry on. After the bill was shot down, it would have been very easy for him just to shake our hands and wish us well. We would have parted friends.

But in the office after Chairman Fuentes offered the ten-second announcement of doom, the conversation was NOT about commiseration and blame—it was “where do we go next?”

Maybe there are some internal negotiation moves that can be tried. He will be investigating those.

Or maybe we just start all over again.

One possibility might be called Pocket Change for Paralysis Cure.

Here is how it would work.

It would still be a traffic ticket add-on, because that is the most direct connection.

But it would be so small it should not offend anyone.

We would not ask for fifteen dollars per ticket, as New York did, nor $100 per violation, as South Carolina does to this very day–  nor three dollars, nor even one dollar, our fallback position this time.

Instead we would request the staggering sum of– fifty cents.

Fifty cents. Half a buck, a handful of pennies– you have that much in your couch cushions.

But if that tiniest of amounts was gained from each of California’s three million plus traffic violators, (3,800,000 last year)  it would net  $1.9 million, allowing the research program to continue.

It would cost the taxpayer exactly nothing.

Would any politician grudge us fifty cents to fund research for paralysis cure?

Only one way to find out.

Stay tuned.

Papers covering the San Fernando Valley Area

Name Phone/Fax/Internet Address/Email Address
BUSINESS LIFE MAGAZINE (818) 240-7088 / (818) 240-7320

CALIFORNIA JOURNAL FOR FILIPINO AMERICANS (310) 532-6238 / (310) 532-6242 – no faxes accepted

CONTACTO MAGAZINE (818) 241-4073

DAILY NEWS OF LOS ANGELES (818) 713-3000 / (818) 713-0058



(818) 546-3315 / (818) 546-3310



(213) 978-0390 / (213) 617-0223

EL AVISO (Magazine) (323) 586-9199 / (323) 589-9395

EL SALVADOR DIA A DIA (323) 737-7910 / (323) 737-1916
HOY (213) 237-3001 / (213) 237-4928

JACKSON PUBLISHING COMPANY (323) 934-6397 / (323) 965-1803

LA GUIA FAMILIAR (818) 882-9200 / (818) 882-2625

LA OPINION (213) 869-2011 / (213) 896-2077

LA VOZ LIBRE (213) 488-0271 / (213) 388-2053

L’ITALO AMERICANO (818) 767-3413 / (818) 767-1410

LOS ANGELES TIMES (213) 237-5000 / (213) 237-7190

LOS ANGELES BAY NEWS OBSERVER Valley Edition (Inglewood / San Fernando Valley)
LOS ANGELES METROPOLITAN GAZETTE (818) 782-8695 / (818) 782-4724

NEW ARMENIA DAILY (818) 246-6468

SAN FERNANDO VALLEY BUSINESS JOURNAL (818) 676-1950 / (818) 676-1747

SAN FERNANDO VALLEY SUN (818) 365-3111 / (818) 898-7135

TAIWAN DAILY NEWS (626) 455-0228 / (626) 455-0898

VALLEY VOICE (310) 429-0484 / (818) 739-6854

VALLEY NEWS GROUP (818) 223-9545 / (818) 223-9552


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