New York state legislative leaders have reached an agreement with Governor Andrew Cuomo on a package of bills aimed at improving limousine safety.
Following the October 2018 limousine crash in Schoharie that killed 20, there has been an outcry for reforms to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.
While some reforms were passed as part of the state budget last year, the legislature could not agree to additional safety measures before the end of the session in June.
But a week into the new session, a deal has been reached. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced that a package of bills was ready to be voted on and sent to the governor’s desk at a Tuesday press conference.
“We are going to be improving safety, we are going to hold limousine companies and drivers accountable, and ultimately, we are going to save lives,” said Stewart-Cousins.
Joining Stewart-Cousins and other Democratic lawmakers at the state capitol were family members of those who lost their lives in Schoharie as well as a 2015 crash on Long Island.
Kevin Cushing’s son Patrick was a passenger who was killed in Schoharie.
“For the past 16 months, family members have worked hand-in-glove with both the Senate and Assembly to craft laws that represent a meaningful legacy to those loved ones that were lost to us on October 6th, 2018,” said Cushing.
In addition to working with those affected by the crash, lawmakers gathered input from committee hearings last year.
The 10-bill package includes seatbelt requirements, mandates commercial driver’s licenses and drug and alcohol testing for operators of vehicles with nine or more passengers, increases criminal penalties for violators, and allows the state to seize or impound vehicles found to be out of compliance. A hotline and website will be created for limo customers to report concerns.
Senate transportation committee chair Tim Kennedy…
“The list of changes we’re making is vast, but we also know that there’s always more work to do, which is why we’re creating a task force that will further examine current limo regulations and safety training programs, and evaluate the need for rear-view cameras, air bags, and speed-restriction devices, as well as a number of miles or years a stretch limo can be on the road – just to name a few,” said Kennedy.
Since the agreement, local lawmakers of both parties have praised the legislation, including Republican Senator James Tedisco and GOP Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh.
Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara authored legislation that would require the state Department of Motor Vehicles to maintain a public database on limousine operators – including safety records, violations, and other information. He represents Amsterdam, home to many of the victims of the Schoharie crash.
“I can say that these bills are important to those families, they’re important to the families that lost loved ones. But they’re important to the community, they’re important to me. And nothing can erase the pain from the losses on that day, but they did look forward to seeing this legislation passed and they’re looking forward to seeing it signed into law as soon as possible,” said Santabarbara.
In announcing his support for the bills, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a joint statement with legislative leaders Tuesday “we stand with those who lost loved ones in these accidents and worked tirelessly to help prevent future tragedies once and for all."
The families are not stopping in Albany. Again, Kevin Cushing.
“Our advocacy work will continue as we move forward and work with our federal legislators to pass similar life-saving legislation in Washington,” said Cushing.
Marking the anniversary of the Schoharie crash in October, Cushing and other family members stood alongside Senator Charles Schumer, Congressman Paul Tonko, Congressman Antonio Delgado, and other officials in announcing a package of federal limo safety reforms. The package is also supported by Representative Elise Stefanik and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.