(WIVB) — Time is almost up for families looking for change to a 175-year-old piece of legislation. Gov. Kathy Hochul has until midnight to sign the Grieving Families Act into law.
This would change the way the state’s wrongful death cases are handled.
Currently, only specific family members can sue for tangible losses or the earning potential of their deceased loved one. Advocates for the change say the existing law is discriminatory against those of a lower socioeconomic status, elderly people and children.
Bernadette Smith’s two-year-old granddaughter Raelynn was killed in a car accident in Wheatfield in May 2022. Smith is among the many people who have lost a loved one now calling on Hochul to sign the act into law.
“[Raelynn]’s a little girl who’s counting on her elected officials to stand up for her,” Smith said. “My state does not recognize my granddaughter’s value as a human as much as it would recognize another person’s value.”
The Grieving Families Act would expand the list of loved ones able to seek compensation. It would also allow people to sue for emotional damages, including grief and loss of affection and companionship.
In an open letter to Gov. Hochul, families of the May 14 Tops mass shooting victims called on her to sign the legislation.
“We stood with you in November because we believed that you were the best person to lead our state. We need you to stand with us and our loved ones,” the letter said.
Mark Talley is one of the people who signed the open letter. His mother, Geraldine, was killed in that shooting.
“Heavy is the head that wears the crown, so we have nothing else left to do but fight,” Talley said. “I would put more focus, more effort and more energy into having this legislation passed since it hasn’t been updated in over 140 years, and since it is discriminatory against the elderly, young and those of low socioeconomic income.”
But Hochul argues this legislation could hurt the state’s economy.
In an op-ed published in the New York Daily News, the governor said “experts have highlighted concerns that the unintended consequences of this far-reaching, expansive legislation would be significant. It is reasonable to think that the legislation as drafted will drive up already-high health insurance premiums.”
She has asked the legislature to amend the bill so it would, for the time being, exempt medical malpractice claims.
If Hochul does not sign this legislation before midnight, or if she vetoes it, it will not become law.