13 FEBRUARY 2013
Welcome to Albany where, as the Manhattan-based think tank the
Brennan Center famously declared in 2004, all is dysfunctional. The Brennan report singled out the Legislature as the fount
of all dysfunction. I’m one of the people in town who knows otherwise. Over a career of nearly three decades, I have
worked through our legislative process to accomplish some remarkable things. The Spinal Cord Injury Research Program is one
The Constantine Institute,
Inc., of which I am Director, has been organized to
promote the highest constitutional, legal, ethical and professional standards in law enforcement; to encourage innovation
in public safety strategy, tactics, training and education and to foster a seamless continuum of cooperation, support and
mutual respect among public safety agencies and organizations.
You may ask why an organization that was formed to promote public safety has so much invested
in a medical research program. Simple. Our purpose is to promote “outside-the-box” thinking.
High on any list of progressive and positive concepts in
the field of public safety is that of Restorative Justice. Simply stated, restorative justice is an approach to community
public safety that emphasizes undoing the harm caused by crime. It often takes the form of restitution or reconciliation between
victim and offender. With vision and imagination, far more sweeping measures can be taken to address the damage caused by
misconduct we normally rely on retributive justice to address.
The Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP) Act of 1998 is one of those measures. It
is the achievement of former New York state trooper Paul Richter. It was also the crowning career achievement of former Assemblyman
30 years, Griffith represented the people of the 40th Assembly District, the East New York section of Brooklyn. East New York
was so plagued by drugs, poverty and gun violence that it was known as “the murder capital of New York City.”
As a consequence of the crack epidemic of the closing decades of the 20th century, it has had way more than its share of innocent
victims paralyzed by gunshot wounds.
Richter sustained a spinal cord injury when he was shot by a man he had pulled over outside of Lake Placid who had just stolen
a trunk-load of handguns from a sporting goods store. Had Paul not stopped him, those guns would have ended up on the streets
in criminal hands. What happened to Paul should remind us of the terrible cost of controlling commerce in illegal guns.
I had the good fortune of bringing Richter and Griffith
together in the spring of 1998 when Griffith agreed to sponsor Richter’s bill. There was something compelling about
this partnership between the state trooper who was gunned down on a country road in the Adirondacks and the politician who
represented an inner city neighborhood where criminal gun violence was almost a daily occurrence. For both of them, and for
all the people who will benefit in years to come as a result of the research program they created, this was a truly great
This was an extraordinary
moment of possibility in tackling a medical problem that since the days of the pharaohs doctors have told patients and families
there is simply no hope. Dr. Wise Young of Rutgers University was telling the national media that we were on the verge of
major breakthroughs. The late Christopher Reeve, himself a victim of spinal cord injury paralysis, helped get the attention
this issue demanded.
that year, a bill was introduced in both Houses of the Legislature. Governor George E. Pataki signed it into law on July 13
as Chapter 338 of the Laws of 1998. In the years since, the landmark Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP) has, through
a small surcharge on fines for moving violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, raised and invested nearly $70 million toward
research on paralysis and other medical issues affecting the central nervous system, including the traumatic brain injury
that is at epidemic levels among our service members coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. New York has, as a result,
taken a national, if not international, leadership role in this area of medical research and innovation. The surcharge has
also generated new revenue to the state’s general fund in the neighborhood of $150 million a year -- money that would
not be coming in without the hard work that Mr. Richter and his supporters put into getting Chapter 338 enacted.
At the outset, let me just say that the leading cause of
spinal cord injury in the nation is motor vehicle accidents, all too often caused by reckless and drunken driving. With Chapter
338, we effectively put New York’s first responders to work generating the revenue that will advance research toward
a cure for the paralysis and TBI those victims live with. That is a stunning example of restorative justice.
Governor David Paterson, in his first budget proposal (2010-11)
to the Legislature, proposed terminating SCIRP and appropriating the program’s tiny fraction of the revenue derived
from the surcharge to paying the state’s ordinary bills. Since that time, the portion of the revenue from this program
that by law should be going to SCIRP has not been forthcoming. The budget proposal that Governor Andrew Cuomo has sent to
the Legislature continues this neglect. I can assure you that we are doing all that we can to persuade the governor and the
Legislature to restore SCIRP funding before this budget is adopted. We could sure use your help.
That this may happen is most unfortunate and undercuts
a decision the state and people of New York made in 1998 to make a long-term and sustained investment in advanced neurological
research, not only toward a cure, but to the generation of valuable patents, advances in pharmaceutical science, leveraging
of research dollars from the National Institutes of Health and private sources, attraction of talented people to live and
work in our state and our state’s prestige and leadership in this field -- an investment in jobs and prosperity that
will benefit all New Yorkers.