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Foss: Are limo bills really a priority?

Foss: Are limo bills really a priority?

Foss: Are limo bills really a priority?
The scene of the limousine crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie County in October.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

State legislators say that passing new limousine laws is a priority.

And that's great. 

These laws might very well prevent the next big limousine tragedy, by keeping defective vehicles off the road and subjecting limousine companies and their drivers to greater scrutiny.

But if passing these laws is really a priority, why weren't they passed during the legislative session that ended in June? 

Why aren't they among the many, many bills that have been signed into law this summer by Gov. Andrew Cuomo? 

The legislation seemed like a sure thing when it was proposed earlier this year in the wake of a horrific accident that killed 20 people at a rural highway intersection in Schoharie County. 

But it languished in the state Legislature, largely because the Assembly and Senate passed separate packages of bills, but took off for the summer without resolving the differences between the two. 

Which is a shame.

Now, I've always believed that the Capital Region lawmakers who worked on this legislation did consider it a priority. 

But I was never convinced their colleagues from other parts of the state shared their sense of purpose, with the possible exception of legislators representing Long Island. 

Like the Capital Region, Long Island understands just how devastating a limousine accident can be. 

In 2015, four young women were killed when a pick-up truck T-boned the limousine they were in as it was leaving a Long Island winery. 

The pickup driver pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired, but a grand jury blamed the limo driver for making a reckless U-Turn and also issued a lengthy report calling on the state to better regulate the stretch limo industry. 

The proposed laws are designed to crack down on bad actors - on limousine operators and drivers intent on skirting the law. 

You don't have to look very far to find a bad actor. 

Nauman Hussain, owner of the limousine company involved in the Schoharie County accident, has been charged with a slew of felonies. 

Among other things, he stands accused of continuing to use a vehicle that was defective and employing a driver who was not licensed to operate a passenger vehicle. 

Bills stalled in the Legislature would address both of these problems. 

One proposal permits the state Department of Transportation or state police to seize limousines if they fail safety inspections and repairs aren't made quickly enough. 

This is a good idea -- a useful tool that will make it easier to get dangerous vehicles off the road. 

Law-abiding limousine operators with well-maintained vehicles won't be impacted by it, but those with aging, faulty vehicles will have something to fear. 

Another proposal would require limousine companies to provide the state Department of Motor Vehicles with a list of stretched or altered vehicles, and also require an annual DMV review of all drivers employed by limousine companies. 

The Legislature's failure to pass sensible laws designed to protect people who use stretch limousines is disappointing. 

But that doesn't mean there's no hope. 

Lawmakers have said they are optimistic something will happen next year, and I, for one, am inclined to believe them. 

The differences in legislation should be easy enough to resolve, and lawmakers from Long Island and the Capital Region will continue to push hard for new limousine safety laws. And while the Legislature's inaction during the 2019 session might be difficult to comprehend, things can change quickly. 

So don't be surprised if the limousine safety laws do become a priority next year. 

Better late than never, as my mother likes to say. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.     

 

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