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No new limo safety laws this year

No new limo safety laws this year

Differences between recently passed Senate and Assembly bills must be resolved
No new limo safety laws this year
The scene of the limousine crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie County in October.
Photographer: Peter Barber

CAPITOL -- Final action on legislation to place new safety regulations on the limousine industry in the wake of last October's multi-fatality crash in Schoharie won't come before January, with the state Assembly and Senate having passed different packages of bills.

The Assembly on Tuesday and Wednesday passed four measures that would require new oversight of stretch limousines and their operators. But the measures are different from the package of limousine bills that the state Senate approved last week.

The differences between the two packages must be resolved before final legislation can be adopted and sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It will be up to the chairpersons of each chamber's transportation committee to meet and resolve the differences -- and with the Legislature rushing to adjourn before the weekend, it won't happen.

"I look forward to working with the Senate and the families impacted by these events in the coming months, to reconcile the bills passed by each House for passage next year," Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman William B. Magnarelli, D-Syracuse, said in an email.

The Senate approved nine bills intended to strengthen regulation of "bad actors" in the limousine industry.

"We believe the nine bills we unanimously passed were strong, comprehensive, and most importantly, supported by the families from the two crashes. The families spoke out about this as recently as Tuesday, asking the Assembly to do right by those they lost. We urge the Assembly to vote on these nine bills, as approved by the Senate," said Molly Hirschbeck, a spokesman for Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, whose district includes the Amsterdam area where many of the victims of the Schoharie crash lived, sponsored some of the new legislation.

Santabarbara said he thinks the most critical piece of legislation is a bill to allow the state Department of Transportation to confiscate any stretch limousine that fails a mandatory state inspection.

"This legislation is intended to go after the people who are not doing it right, who do not follow the rules, and get them off the road," he said.

The Oct. 6 crash at the intersection of state routes 30 and 30A north of the village of Schoharie killed all 17 passengers in the vehicle, plus the driver and two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store. Prosecutors say the vehicle should not have been on the road due to failed inspections, and they believe the limousine suffered catastrophic brake failure as it came down the long grade of Oak Hill.

Nauman Hussain, operator of Prestige Limousine of Wilton, was charged with 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide -- one count of each for every victim -- and is scheduled to face trial in Schoharie County Court in January.

Lawmakers have seized on some of the flaws in the state stretch limousine inspection system revealed by investigations into the crash and drafted legislation meant to correct them.

One Santabarbara bill that received unanimous Assembly approval would require limousine companies to provide the state Department of Motor Vehicles with a list of its stretched or altered vehicles designed to carry 15 passengers or more. It would also require an annual DMV review of all drivers employed by limousine companies.

Another bill would require stretch limousines to use global positioning system technology while operating in New York state, and increase the penalties when a stretch limo makes an illegal U-turn -- an effort to prevent incidents like a 2015 fatal crash on Long Island blamed in part on the driver getting lost and making an illegal U-turn.

The four bills approved by the Assembly were among 29 various limousine regulation bills introduced in the Assembly since January, Santabarbara said.

"I'm not on the Transporation Committee, but these bills are very important to me," Santabarbara said.

Magnarelli said the Assembly Transportation will continue working on legislation. "The Assembly continues to work on legislation in response to the tragedies in Schoharie and Cutchogue, in addition to the significant measures that were included in this year’s state budget," he said.

The Assembly's package of laws includes a measure requiring for-hire limousine companies to carry higher insurance levels -- $1.5 million per incident, up from the current $500,000. That bill has already passed the Senate, meaning it will now go to Cuomo for consideration.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter

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