With ‘Sammy’s Law’ Not in the State Budget, It’s Up to the City Council to Push It
Life-saving legislation that would allow New York City to set speed limits below 25 miles per hour failed to make it into this year’s state budget, legislative leaders said — effectively kicking responsibility to the City Council.
“Sammy’s Law” — named after 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was killed by a reckless driver in Brooklyn in 2013 — failed to move forward despite the backing of both Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams. The bill would give the city the authorization to reduce its speed limits, and its exclusion likely means more people will die unnecessarily in traffic crashes, bill co-sponsor state Sen. Andrew Gounardes said.
“It’s absolutely terrible. Slower speeds save lives. People will continue to die on our streets the longer we delay in doing what is proven to save lives,” said Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge).
With the budget process wrapped up, legislators could still pass the bill the old fashioned way before their annual session ends in June. But before that can happen, the City Council would have to pass what’s called a “home rule” message asking the state to pass the bill.
The message is essential; upstate Assembly Member William Magnarelli (D-Syracuse), the chairman of the Transportation Committee, has said he would only back legislation with a positive home rule request, according to Amy Cohen, Sammy’s mother.
Magnarelli told Cohen he would “pass it quickly out of committee” if he received a home rule message, she said.
It’s unclear what the Council will do. In 2021, the Council voted 42-to-6 in support of the Sammy’s Law home rule message — only for the bill to die in the Assembly, which declined to vote before leaving session.
Last year, the Council failed to pass a home rule message — a notable reversal from the previous Council, whose term limited membership was swapped out for a new cadre of pols inclined towards driving and speeding.
“A majority of the Council are new members,” then-Assembly Member Dick Gottfried told Streetsblog last year. “Members of the Council are, by and large, people who drive cars and I’ve seen in news reports that a number of them have gotten tickets as a result of speed cameras. An element of self-interest. It’s very frustrating to me that the bill died this year again, and especially even though the legislature prepared to pass it. Lives are at stake.”
A majority of the Council signed onto a letter to Heastie and Magnarelli urging them to pass Sammy’s Law in the budget. Two key members declined to sign, however — Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Transportation Committee Chair Selvena Brooks-Powers, both of eastern Queens.
Brooks-Powers later expressed conditional support for the legislation, with the caveat that the city and state redesign streets for safety in low-income communities of color. Adams still hasn’t signed on.
Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez (D-Williamsburg) introduced a resolution earlier this month calling on the state to pass Sammy’s Law. The resolution currently has 10 sponsors — barely one-fifth of the Council. That resolution is seen as a precursor to a home rule message.
“While I’m disappointed that Sammy’s Law did not make it into this year’s state budget, it underscores New York City’s urgent need to be able to make decisions about speed limits in our own communities. By starting to build a coalitions of overwhelming Council Member support, and continuing to fight for Sammy’s Law, we can ensure that Sammy’s legacy lives on and that the safety of our streets remains a top priority,” said Gutiérrez, who later clarified that she had not seen the final budget.
Brooks-Powers must first hold a hearing on the resolution before it can come to a vote. Both Brooks-Powers and Speaker Adams declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations, according to a Council spokesperson.
“There is no state budget, only a ‘conceptual agreement’ that is still being negotiated by Gov. Hochul and the New York State Legislature,” said the spokesperson, Jorge Muniz-Reyes.
Data show that the faster a car moves, the higher the chance someone will die in the event of a crash. Pedestrians have an 80 percent chance of surviving being hit by a car traveling at 20 miles per hour — but only a 10 percent chance of surviving being hit by a car traveling at 40 miles per hour, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“It is inexcusable that Sammy’s Law was cut from the final state budget. Make no mistake: We will not stop fighting for Sammy’s Law until it’s signed into law,” said Elizabeth Adams, Deputy Executive Director for Public Affairs at Transportation Alternatives.
For Cohen, whose son Sammy died in 2013 and would have turned 23 this year, the delay is “outrageous.”
It would be “unconscionable” for legislators to leave session for the third year in a row without passing a bill that could have saved her son’s life, said Cohen, who added that she’s “confident” that the council will pass the home rule message this year.
“We have a crisis on our roads,” she said. “There’s no reason it cannot get done this session.”
Well, no reason except Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) has not reassigned the bill after its prime sponsor, Gottfried, retired last year. Heastie’s office did not respond to a request for comment.