Governor vetoes $2 million to WVU Neuroscience Institute, delegate calls it mind-boggling

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

In a surprise move on Friday, Governor Jim Justice vetoed HB5014. The bill was a supplemental appropriation introduced by Speaker Roger Hanshaw to direct $2 million to West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute. 

The institute was featured on 60 Minutes this winter for their groundbreaking research on Alzheimer’s. Using a non-invasive surgery, Dr. Ali Rezai and his team have been able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. They achieve this by shooting a focused ultrasound at gummy proteins in the brain believed to be responsible for the disease. By clearing the gummy proteins, they can ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s patients. They also think it can help patients of other diseases. 

Dr. Ali Rezai

Speaker Roger Hanshaw introduced the $2 million appropriation, calling Dr. Rezai and his team “heroes.” He said the team received clearance from the Food & Drug Administration to begin trials employing the same ultrasound technique on patients experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, obesity, and substance use. Because the research begins in April, Hanshaw told his fellow delegates, “We ought to be extraordinarily proud of that,…I cannot think of a better way to spend this $2 million, and do it now.”

The governor’s veto throws that timeline in doubt, though. 

In his veto letter, Gov. Justice does not offer a defined reason for the move. He says, “These…appropriations direct the grant of large sums of money with little context or direction for the use of such funding.” 

The House of Delegates held a committee hearing on the bill January 29. Dr. Rezai testified, as did Albert Wright, CEO of WVU Health. 

Dr. Matthew Rohrbach, a delegate from Cabell County, spoke strongly in favor of the bill saying it was not just medical research but instead  is “ an investment in the business capacity of our state.”

The Justice Administration did not appear to have staff present at the committee hearing. 

In the veto, Gov. Justice went on to say that the legislature would need to reconvene for a budget special session soon (despite just adjourning last week) and this matter could be taken up then. 

Delegate Evan Hansen (D-Monongalia) says, “It was abundantly clear in committee and on the House floor exactly what this money would be spent on. The speaker explained exactly what it would be spent on. If the governor were at the capitol paying attention or picked up a phone, he would’ve known.”

“We finally have something groundbreaking,” Hansen continued. “We can be the global leader in a new technology that’s developing methods to treat Alzheimer’s, substance use, and obesity. Things that are impacting West Virginians. It boggles my mind that an appropriation for such a small amount of money with such a huge upside would be vetoed. It’s the speaker’s bill.”

Stay tuned to RealWV for updates on this developing story.

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