The 2013 state legislative session came to a close two weeks ago, ending with a total of 650 bills that were approved by both the Senate and Assembly. Some that were passed as well as others that languished have a direct impact on village government operations.
Certainly the most important for the long term is the three-year extension of the binding interest arbitration law affecting the labor contracts for police and firefighters. New parameters for awards have been set forth including a requirement that the arbitration panel be compelled to “first and foremost” give 70 percent of its weight and consideration of a local government’s “ability to pay” when making awards.
As background, for the past 40 years in New York state, when a municipal government and either a police or fire union reached a contract impasse, compulsory binding arbitration is triggered, a remedy enjoyed by no other public sector employees.
Though not a part of the original Taylor Law (1967), which first authorized collective bargaining for state public sector employees, because the state labor experts who drafted the law specifically did not recommend it, it was passed as an experiment in 1974 and extended repeatedly thereafter.
What the new emphasis on “ability to pay” does in essence is penalize fiscally responsible communities such as Bronxville who may have trimmed services and staff to create savings and/or created a fund balance to pay for the out-of-control pension costs most assuredly coming our way. Not part of the equation is whether a community might have amassed some funds for a local infrastructure improvement that the local elected officials deemed essential or the fact that their police and firefighters might already be paid well relative to their peers in surrounding communities.
Though the governor had capped any award by an arbitration panel at 2 percent in his initial proposal to coincide with his 2 percent overall tax cap initiative, it did not appear in the language of the final bill. This is in contrast to a similar situation in New Jersey in which Gov. Christie and the Democratic legislative leaders collaborated to require arbitration awards to be in line with the state’s 2 percent tax cap. In addition, unlike the New Jersey legislation, the New York bill contains no other reforms to what is a secretive, expensive and time consuming process.
Two other items awaiting the governor’s signature that have a direct impact on the village include a bill prohibiting smoking at any municipal playground and another to increase municipal opportunities for cooperative purchasing of goods and services. Of great importance to the village was the passage of a bill allowing us to spread the cost of fire hydrant maintenance to all users of water and not just property taxpayers.
We were disappointed that bills redefining the term newspaper to include electronic ones as well allowing online publication of public notices never made it out of committee due to the efforts of the powerful print lobby.
A bill that would have permanently allowed for the use of lever voting machines for school districts and village elections did not pass the Assembly. Speaking from the village’s perspective, the lever machines have proved to be less expensive, easier to use and just as accurate as the newer electronic method.
Thankfully, many initiatives that were simply unfunded mandates and “one size fits all” government regulations did not make it to the governor’s desk.
A sampling include:
- a bill that would dictate the type of municipal outdoor lighting structures regardless of the age and attributes of a community
- mandatory and “one syllabus” training for local dog control officers
- a requirement that local governments respond to all applications to use public land as a community garden and defend decisions taken
- bill requiring uniform training for all sanitation workers, including seasonal and summer employees, and a responsibility for creating and maintaining records detailing the individual training each employee received
- bill mandating four hours paid leave annually for only cervical cancer screening
- bill authorizing a disability benefit to police officers and firefighters who suffer employment-related absences due to the MRSA virus with a presumption that MRSA was contracted in the line of duty
Assembly leader Sheldon Silver personally quashed the Scaffold Law Reform Bill which would have saved municipal contractors hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance premiums and payouts and in turn passed the savings on to the local governments in the form of decreased construction costs.
New York’s Scaffolding Law makes contractors and property owners 100 percent liable for any scaffolding accidents regardless of the culpability of the worker. On the books since 1895, it is the last of its kind in the nation. Mr. Silver is Of Counsel to the law firm Weitz and Luxembourg, which just last year won tens of millions of dollars suing under the current Scaffolding Law.
Perhaps Mark Twain’s admonishment that “no one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session,” has a germ of truth in our fair state.