From the Desk of Senator Craig Johnson: June 5, 2009

Announces Passage of Crucial Legislation to Protect Firefighters

New York State Senator Craig M. Johnson (D-Nassau) announces the passage of important legislation that protects firefighters from legal liability when operating fire trucks. This commonsense measure, (S.1624-C/A.6024-A), which he co-sponsored, closes a dubious loophole in state law that puts firefighters in legal jeopardy on a consistent basis.

Under this loophole, it is unlawful for anyone to operate a fire truck without a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). While there was an amendment put in place that exempted firefighters when responding to emergency calls, it did not cover firefighters from liability in any other scenarios, including driving the truck back to the firehouse after an emergency, participating in a parade, taking part in training drills.

For all intents and purposes, any firefighter without a CDL who operated a fire truck was in violation of the law and therefore open to legal liability. These licenses are difficult to obtain and often unaffordable for firefighters who are not getting paid for their services.

“It is just plain wrong to penalize these brave men and women who selflessly put themselves in danger in order to protect their neighborhoods and their neighbors,” Johnson said. “I am proud to have helped protect Nassau’s volunteer firefighters, just as they protect us day-in and day-out.”

This legislation would also keep New York in conformity with federal regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which grants states discretion in exempting firefighters and operators of other emergency motor vehicles. By staying in conformance with federal regulations, the state would preserve approximately $31 million in federal highway aid.

The legislation, which passed both houses last week, was sponsored by Long Island lawmakers Senator Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point) and Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst); it is expected to be signed by the governor.

Votes to Protect Unemployed NYers During Economic Crisis

The New York State Senate last week passed legislation (S.4110-A) that will provide an additional 13 weeks of extended benefits to nearly 120,000 currently unemployed New Yorkers, Senator Craig M. Johnson announced.

“This is a much-needed life preserver for the thousands of residents across Long Island and New York state that have been victimized by this worldwide economic crisis,” Senator Johnson said. “As we work to get New York back on the right track, this measure will provide additional help to families and communities that have been touched by this downturn.”

Unemployment benefits for approximately 56,000 jobless New York residents were set to expire last week and nearly 5,000 people were slated to lose their benefits every week during the next two to three months.

New York State will receive more than $645 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, funding that will be used to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks to those currently unemployed. Additionally, federal stimulus dollars will also stabilize New York’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which pays out all benefits for unemployed workers.

Because of the rising unemployment rates, with more than 160,000 jobs lost in the last year alone, that fund has been running in deficit since January of this year.

The legislation has also been passed by the Assembly and signed by the governor.

In March, the Senate and Assembly passed legislation that allowed unemployed workers to maintain health insurance at a sharply discounted rate. Under the measure, those who were laid off between Sept.1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009 would be eligible to have 65 percent of federal COBRA premiums paid for by funding provided though the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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