Thursday, 22 February 2018 22:10

County Sets 2018 Legislative Goals

BALLSTON SPA – Saratoga County supervisors support imposing severe penalties on drug dealers whose illicit sales result in fatal overdoses. They seek legal relief for employers that hire negligent workers, who then cause accidents on job sites. And they want coroners to be legally compelled to honor the wishes of every registered organ donor in the county.

These are among a list of annual priorities that will be voted on as a package by the county Board of Supervisors at its Feb. 27 monthly meeting. Lawmakers in Albany would have to pass or amend multiple state laws for the county to achieve such goals.

During committee meetings earlier this month, supervisors briefly discussed the proposed “Laree’s Law,” which would establish the crime of homicide for illegal opioid dealers whose products can be directly tied to overdose fatalities.

“Saratoga County fully supports any action that will result in the slowing of the heroin epidemic,” reads that section of the county’s 14-point 2018 Legislative Program.    

Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston said the proposed law—originally sponsored several years ago by state Sen. George Amedore (R-Rotterdam)—should include a clear exemption for medical professionals.

Last year, the State Senate passed Laree’s Law. But Assembly members in the New York City area opposed it, and they continue to do so in the current session. 

County supervisors also support reforming the so-called “Scaffold law,” which they say is unique to New York. They claim the law, which pertains to liability for workplace accidents statewide, increases annual costs on private businesses by nearly $1.5 billion.

Moreover, school districts, county and local governments pay out an estimated $785 million to comply with the statute. 

“The Scaffold law generates an astounding number of expensive lawsuits that contribute to a variety of negative impacts—higher construction costs, fewer jobs and higher prices for construction-related goods and services,” the county summary states.

The issue revolves around problems that can arise, for example, when workers consume alcohol on lunch breaks, then return to job sites and fall or injure others.

“Currently, the employee bears no responsibility” while employers are held liable under the law, explained Mark LaVigne, deputy director of the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC).

During its annual Legislative Conference between Jan. 29 and 31 in Albany, NYSAC passed a resolution urging state leaders to consider “the full repeal of the Scaffold Law or its modification to include a pure standard of comparative negligence.”

The county supports numerous other state actions this year as well, involving sales taxes from online transactions; video conferencing for county jail inmates, who are currently transported to court appearances at significant taxpayer expense; increased county revenue from local Department of Motor Vehicle offices; and more.   

Yet supervisors are “strongly requesting” that state leaders in the Assembly oppose a Senate measure to refund “surplus auction funds to former owners” of foreclosed properties, according to the county’s legislative summary. 

“We’ve made some substantial profits as a result of these auctions,” offered County Attorney Stephen Dorsey at a Feb. 6 meeting. He noted how most of the properties sold by the county in auctions are vacant lands.

Preparing for the auctions themselves involves “a lot of employee manpower,” Dorsey added. “Sometimes, we take a loss. It varies from property to property,” he said. “You don’t always make money.”

Saratoga County Coroner Susan Hayes-Masa also made an impassioned appeal on behalf of registered organ donors to the Legislative and Research Committee.

For years, Hayes-Masa said, she has perceived the need for a new state law that would require coroners to report all organ donors upon their passing. That often does not happen, she explained, because existing laws stipulate that only deaths occurring inside hospitals trigger the necessary referrals.   

There are 91,000 registered organ donors in Saratoga County alone and 4.8 million statewide, the county summary indicates.

Nationwide, more than 120,000 people are waiting for transplants of healthy organs, Hayes-Masa said.

She met recently with Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh (R-Ballston), who is now sponsoring a related bill in Albany.

“We’re not asking coroners to make decisions—just to make a phone call,” Hayes-Masa told the supervisors. 

“Families gain solace,” she added, “in knowing that their loved ones are helping others.” 

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