NY could try to sue gun manufacturers under bill

Members of the New York Assembly debate budget bills during a legislative session in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol on April 7 in Albany. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

ALBANY — New York's attorney general could sue gun manufacturers under certain scenarios under a bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday as lawmakers continued wrapping up this year's legislative session.

Gun manufacturers could, for instance, face a lawsuit for harming the public by failing to take steps to prevent firearms from being sold unlawfully in New York. A gun manufacturer would not have to purposely harm the public to be held liable, under the bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Benjamin, a Democrat.

Supporters say the bill addresses deadly gun violence that disproportionately affects minority neighborhoods, as well as people who were hurt or killed unintentionally by the firearm industry’s failure to implement safety mechanisms. Anyone responsible for the “illegal or unreasonable sale, manufacture, distribution, importing or marketing of firearms” could be held responsible for causing a “public nuisance,” according to the bill.

Democrats and anti-gun violence groups have decried the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which gave gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits related to the criminal misuse of their products.

Supporters of New York’s bill argue that gun manufacturers can still be held liable if they violate other laws concerning the sale or marketing of firearms.

It’s unclear, however, whether that argument will hold up in court.

The gun manufacturers liability bill is one of several pieces of legislation that have passed the Senate in recent days but have yet to land on the Assembly floor for a vote. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has not spoken publicly about his priorities for the last days of session.

Here's a look at other bills lawmakers could consider in coming days:

ADULT SURVIVORS ACT: The Assembly has no plan to vote on a bill to give people sexually abused as adults a chance to sue perpetrators despite statutes of limitations. The Senate passed the bill unanimously, but supporters are worried behind-the-scenes politics are stalling Assembly passage.

ANTI-HARASSMENT BILLS: The Assembly has yet to take up several bills that passed in the Senate to extend the statute of limitations for workplace harassment to five years and ensure all state employees are protected from harassment and retaliation. Several former Assembly employees who were sexually harassed, including Elizabeth Crothers, claim the Assembly is protecting its own interests at the expense of New Yorkers.

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee has launched an investigation into whether there are grounds to impeach Gov. Andrew Cuomo over multiple allegations — including that he groped a current female aide and sexually harassed multiple employees. The governor has denied he did anything wrong.

SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH CARE: The Assembly for years has passed a single-payer health care system bill despite lack of Senate support. This year’s bill has not come up for a vote. Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried, who’s called for Cuomo’s resignation, said in a Friday interview on Capitol Pressroom that some lawmakers who back the law publicly have expressed opposition privately to Speaker Heastie.

DECRIMINALIZING SYRINGES, NEEDLES: New York would repeal criminal penalties for possessing needles and syringes under a bill that passed the Senate Monday. Pharmacies and health care agencies could also provide syringes without facing the current limit of 10 syringes. New York funds syringe programs for people who use drugs, who can face up to a year in jail for syringe possession. Ivette Chavez-Gonzalez, Users Union leader from the Buffalo Chapter of VOCAL-NY, said it would be “unethical” for Heastie to fail to pass the bill, which had long stalled on the Assembly floor.

PAROLE VIOLATIONS: New York would largely eliminate the practice of incarcerating people for technical parole violations under an amended bill released Monday. The bill has exceptions for parole violations that could endanger public safety, including if someone incarcerated for driving under the influence then went out driving. People could also receive “earned time credits” to encourage positive behavior, and would have the right to counsel during the parole revocation process. New Yorkers United for Justice Executive Director Alexander Horwitz said advocates worked with legislative leaders to hash out an agreement on the bill.

SEALING OF CRIMINAL RECORDS: Criminal justice reform groups hope that lawmakers will pass an amended version of a bill to automatically seal criminal records after a certain number of years. A New Yorker would have their records automatically sealed at least three years from sentencing for a misdemeanor, or seven years for a felony. The law wouldn’t apply to sex offenses, or for people who are currently under parole or probation or facing a pending criminal charge. Courts, or anyone required to run fingerprint-based criminal history checks, could access the records in certain scenarios. The original bill would have also eventually expunged the records from an individual's criminal history.

CARBON TAX: A proposed carbon tax faces steep odds this year, despite pressure from environmental groups who point to a sweeping 2019 law that set sweeping renewable energy goals. Republicans argue the bill — which is in committee and would amount to a $55 surcharge per ton of fossil fuel emissions — would dramatically raise heating and gasoline costs for individuals and small businesses.

INVESTIGATION FUNDING: Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has introduced a bill to ensure that the Legislature can tap into more funds for an impeachment investigation and trial. The Assembly Judiciary committee's own probe has an initial budget of $250,000, which committee chair Charles Lavine said will likely increase. Stewart-Cousins' bill would allow the Legislature to tap into an existing state fund that both the attorney general and Cuomo can already use. A spokesperson for her office said the bill could pass in both chambers Wednesday.

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