Brown nixes traffic ticket/spinal cord research bill

Gov. Jerry Brown today vetoed an Bay Area lawmaker’s bill that would’ve added a $1 fee to the cost of a moving traffic violation in order to fund spinal-cord injury research.

AB 1657 by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, would’ve directed the money to the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund, which was created in 2000 and is administered by the Reeve-Irvine Research Center at UC-Irvine.

Originally bankrolled by the state’s general fund, the program has been zeroed out by budget cuts even though every $1 of state money had leveraged another $5 in federal funds. It’s named after Fremont Planning Commissioner Roman Reed, who suffered a spinal cord injury in the 1990s and became a nationally-known research advocate.

The Assembly had passed the bill 46-24 in May; the state Senate 22-14 in August; and the Assembly approved it again on a 48-28 concurrence vote in August.

Wieckowski’s office said eight other states use a similar method to fund spinal cord research, but Brown today said California won’t be the ninth.

“Spinal cord injury research is certainly worthwhile, but the funding method chosen is not,” the governor wrote in his veto message. “Loading more and more costs on traffic tickets has been too easy a source of new revenue. Fines should be based on what is reasonable punishment, not on paying for more general fund activities.”

Wieckowski said he’s disappointed.

“This is not only a loss for all the Californians living with paralysis, it’s also a loss for scientific research and innovation,” he said, noting top researchers had supported the bill. “I think $1 is a reasonable penalty for irresponsible drivers when you consider the fact that traffic accidents are the number one cause of spinal cord injuries. I will keep on working to make sure California reinvests in this vital research.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • James B.

    The Governor was right to veto this bill, although spinal cord research is a noble cause. Otherwise, what would be next? A 100% state tax on overdue library books to fund eye research? The bigger question should be why the state has funded this program all of these years. If the state Legislature is to have any role in medical research funding, it ought to be done on some rational basis than what’s politically popular. The flu probably kills and impairs the lives of more people than most medical conditions that have their own state-funded institutes, but I doubt that the Legislature funds a flu research program.