Kathy Hochul

Hochul remains tight-lipped on her plans for the revised Grieving Families Act

Just five months ago, the governor vetoed the popular bill to update the state’s wrongful death laws. Lawmakers have passed a new version they say addresses the governor’s concerns.

Gov. Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Five months after Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed legislation to update the state’s 175-year-old wrongful death laws, lawmakers passed an updated version – sending it to the governor’s desk for final review. 

The law would allow family members of someone who has died to pursue damages for emotional loss, not just financial loss. It has faced strong opposition from the insurance industry.

“I do think that she would consider vetoing it again,” said George Arzt, a longtime Democratic political strategist. “The bigger question really is: What will the Legislature do after that, and will there be enough time to override it?”

In her veto message earlier this year, Hochul wrote the bill passed “without a serious evaluation of the impact of these massive changes on the economy, small businesses, individuals, and the State's complex health care system.” At the time, the governor also claimed that she’d tried to negotiate the bill with the Democratic lawmakers to no avail. Lawmakers denied the assertion that they dropped the ball.

The new version of the Grieving Families Act would set the time permitted to bring a wrongful death statute to three years. This is six months less than previously proposed. When asked by City & State how the bill addresses the issues raised by the governor, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, said the latest version will limit the retroactive effect of the bill to 2018,  no longer allows for all disorders caused by grief or anguish to be eligible and specifically defined close family members.

The new version of the Grieving Families Act passed both chambers on Tuesday and is now headed to the governor’s desk in the waning days of the Legislative session. It’s unclear whether or not the governor will sign the bill into law.

While at an event in Albany on Wednesday, Hochul gave little insight into whether or not she will veto the revised bill.  The governor pointed to the hundreds of bills that she had to review last year and her process of reviewing them. “Some of them take a little longer, and I asked a lot of questions,” Hochul told reporters. “So I'm not in a position now to say yes or no to any particular piece of legislation.”

Shontell Smith, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins' former counsel and chief of staff, underscored how popular the bill is among members in an interview with City & State. When asked about the political fallout if the governor were to veto the bill for a second time, Smith pointed to the “battle” between hospitals, who oppose the bill, and trial lawyers, who support it, amid growing support from state lawmakers who’ve worked hard to get it passed in the Legislature through the years.

Smith also said the governor should use the opportunity to make her issues known to the Legislature  – and should even introduce a chapter amendment to the bill if needed. “If you're never going to sign the bill, you just need to be open and honest (and say) as a policy matter, it’s not something you support,” Smith said.

Additional reporting by Rebecca C. Lewis

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the new version of the Grieving Families Act would extend the wrongful death statute six months more than previously proposed. The story has been updated to reflect that the latest version of the bill will make the statute six months less than previously proposed – for a total of 3 years.

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