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Cycle of Rage Update: Speaker Heastie Has Not Put Speed Limit Bill on Next Week’s Agenda

Sammy's Law is not on the agenda for next week's legislative session in Albany, dooming the measure to allow New York City to set its own speed limits.

2:43 PM EDT on June 16, 2023

Supporters of Sammy’s Law staged a “die-in” at Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office in Manhattan on Friday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It’s not on his agenda — and it may not be on hers, either

Sammy’s Law — the years-long effort to earn New York City the power to set its own speed limits — is not on the calendar for Tuesday's extra legislative session because Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is continuing his effort to run out the clock on the bill, which has already passed the Senate and has the support of the governor, Mayor Adams and the City Council.

But what about Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side), who is the bill's prime sponsor and the point person for getting it over the finish line?

Five other Rosenthal bills are on the agenda for the Assembly's special session, which is expected to run through Wednesday. (Update: On Tuesday morning, four new bills were added to the calendar — and three were Rosenthal bills. None was Sammy's Law)

All of the bills — which include measures to tweak health care notification and to require an ingredients list on packages of diapers — are certainly important. But none is as life-saving and as widely supported as Sammy's Law, also known as Assembly bill A07266, which a majority of Assembly members, including 20 Republicans, has pledged to support.

Pledges of support mean nothing, of course, if Heastie won't move the bill, because residents of New York State will never get to see how their representatives would have voted.

Meanwhile, it's unclear what Rosenthal is doing to encourage Heastie to put aside his opposition to the life-saving bill. She hasn't returned calls from Streetsblog, and at least three supporters of the bill told Streetsblog that Rosenthal has "ghosted" them since last week's press conference bemoaning the Assembly's failure to pass the bill by the end of the official session.

"We've all been focusing on Heastie because he's the one who could bring this to a vote and because his opposition is so bizarre given the support the bill has, but it's time to focus on Linda because she has to step it up," said one activist.

Another added, "I just don't like that she's suddenly ghosted me."

The die-in.

What's going on is obvious: The legislature is an accountability avoidance machine, and Sammy's Law is an object lesson in how the machine works. In this case, a majority of legislators can support a bill on paper, yet they'll all be held blameless when the bill fails to pass.

The bill has 61 sponsors! And a majority of them are from New York City, where the bill would have its sole impact. But sources have told Streetsblog that some legislators — even some whose names are on the bill — have told Heastie that they don't want the bill to pass because they don't actually support it and don't want anyone to find out.

Activist and road violence victim Mary Beth Kelly showed off a new t-shirt worn by members of Families for Safe Streets featuring fresh tire tracks. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

So Heastie takes the heat for members who are desperate to avoid putting their vote on the record, lest there be any accountability for lawmakers who tell activists to their face that they support the bill, but actually don't. Unless there's a vote, there's no way to tell.

(On a personal level, Heastie's lack of support for the bill is bizarre; his district contains one of the city's most dangerous 25-mile-per-hour streets, Streetsblog recently reported. Heastie's district office is on that roadway, East Gun Hill Road, which presumably would be one of the first to get a lower speed limit if Sammy's Law were to pass. And, lest we forget, since Jan. 1, 2022, there have been 1,798 reported crashes in Heastie's district, or roughly 3.4 per day, injuring 971 people, most of the his own constituents.)

Heastie's failure is why members of Families for Safe Streets and other activists held a die-in on the pavement in front of the lawmaker's Manhattan office on Friday and chanted, "Bring it to a vote!"

The fact that the bill isn't even on the agenda was appalling to Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris.

"The governor wants this. The mayor wants this. The City Council wants this. The Senate passed this. The vast majority of the Assembly want this. So, Speaker Heastie, why don't you want this?" Harris said.

Amy Cohen (left) and Fabiola Mendieta-Cuapio at the end of last week's hunger strike.

He mentioned the 99-hour hunger strike that Families for Safe Streets members Amy Cohen and Fabiola Mendieta-Cuapio waged in the closing days of the legislative session last week.

"If we have people who've lost children who are willing to go without food for days, Speaker Heastie can add this to the agenda," he said, adding that more than 100 people have died on New York City streets this year. And there have been more than 41,600 reported crashes, or roughly 205 crashes every single day.

Cohen was not at the die-in on Friday, but was represented by her husband, Gary Eckstein, the father of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, whose death in 2013 led to the drafting of Sammy's Law. Unlike his wife, Eckstein has chosen to grieve his son in a less-public manner over the years, but his words on Friday were no less powerful.

"It is almost 10 years since he was killed, and with Father’s Day coming this weekend, it particularly hard to be standing here speaking about his death," Eckstein said. "At the time he was killed, the speed limit along Prospect Park was 30 mph. Had the speed limit been 20, there is a good chance Sammy would still be alive today.

"So when [state Sen.] Brad Hoylman proposed naming this bill after Sammy, we thought it would be a good memorial to him. It was too late for him, but others could be saved in his name. Parents would not have to bury their children. Others would not have to bear the sudden loss of a husband or wife, sister or brother, parent or grandparent, colleague or friend.

Gary Eckstein addresses the group.

"But now Sammy‘s Law has become a source of pain and frustration for our family," Eckstein concluded. "It has become associated with an uncaring legislature that fails to take simple, common-sense action to save lives. It has become associated with political dysfunction and a failure to put a bill to a vote that has overwhelming support in the assembly. That is not something we want associated with Sammy."

Unfortunately, this family, this state, is stuck with it.

Neither Rosenthal nor Heastie returned calls from Streetsblog.

Gersh Kuntzman is editor of Streetsblog and occasionally pens the "Cycle of Rage" column. The archive is here.

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