In a classic end-of-session rush job, the Assembly and Senate last week passed a bill that will make it easier to sue New York State’s local governments.
The bill, innocuously titled the “Uniform Notice of Claims Act,” extends the time period for filing certain lawsuits against public entities and centralizes the filing of claims with the secretary of state. With tens of thousands of lawsuits filed against our public institutions each year, it is easy to see how the secretary of state’s office could be quickly overwhelmed with pending litigation, and delay actual notice to the defendant municipalities.
Of course, when local governments get sued, taxpayers foot the bill. In New York, our cities, towns, villages and counties are overburdened with lawsuits. Local governments are often roped into claims because they have “deep pockets” and are perceived as an easy target because they are under pressure to settle, rather than fight a claim and incur the costs of litigation.
The bill was approved June 21, the last day of session, by a 44-16 margin in the Senate, and by a 113-13 margin in the Assembly. In both houses, a few Democrats joined a minority of Republicans in voting against the measure. Among those voting in favor were Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (who, of course, could have single-handedly blocked the bill) and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb — last seen demanding that the state provide local taxpayers with relief from unfunded mandates.
The sponsor of the bill, which was opposed by local government groups, was the chairman of the Senate’s Local Government Committee, Jack Martins of Mineola — who, naturally, is also a member of the state Mandate Relief Council, created a year ago when the Legislature and Governor Cuomo couldn’t agree to anything really substantial to reduce cost pressures on local governments.
While the governor has yet to propose meaningful mandate relief, will he at least veto this thing?