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The Last Bill Standing: the deadline for Governor Hochul to act upon the Grieving Families Act is here

Raelynn Huber
Posted at 11:30 PM, Jan 29, 2023

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — It's a case of the last bill standing. Grieving families who lost loved ones to tragedy are calling for Governor Kathy Hochul to update New York's 175-year old wrongful death law, the "Grieving Families Act"and time is running out.

"Well ever since I became aware of the bill and the unfortunate club that I'm in last year of May 24th, 2022, it's been a roller coaster of devastation to be honest with you," said Bernadette Smith, grandmother of wrongful death victim.

We first spoke with Smith a few weeks ago when she shared the story of her families heartbreaking loss. Her 2-year-old granddaughter Raelynn was killed in car accident in Wheatfield on the way home from daycare with her mom, infant sister. Another car struck theirs causing them to veer off the road and hit a utility pole.

Raelynn Huber

Smith said her family has been anxiously waiting for the Grieving Families Act to be approved by Governor Kathy Hochul so some historical wrongs can be made right.

"As the time has gone by since then and it get closer to Monday, of course this being the eve of the night the bill should be signed hopefully," said Smith. "It's, you know, somewhat concerning."

Under current New York law, if anyone is wrongfully killed due to the negligence of someone else, the families of that individual are entitled to bring legal action for the economic loss of the individual.

However, many families believe the 175-year-old wrongful death law is discriminatory due to the way in which the value of a life is decided.

To give those families one last chance to express concern and urge the legislations approval, the New York Public Interest Research Group is hosting a conference call via Zoom Monday afternoon.

"Really its about the families," said Blair Horner, Executive Director of NYPIR. "Right, I mean there are advocates that have been working on this for decades. I mean the law has been on the book for 175 years and hasn't been fundamentally changed in a long time."

"Any bright light would be helpful to us and give us some comfort," said Smith. "We will obviously never get her back but we do respect her life and miss her so much and we want other people to know that too."

Horner said normally the governor and the legislature would work out any differences in advance, come to an agreement and then the amended bill is approved. Horner told 7 News, he wasn't sure why the Grieving Families Act is the last of more than 1,000 bills passed by the legislature in 2022 that has not been acted upon by the governor.

"Under New York constitution, bills that are sent to the governor at the end of the calendar year 2022 gives her 30 days to act and if she doesn't act its automatically vetoed. It's called a pocket veto," said Horner. "So the governor really doesn't have to do anything if she wants to kill the legislation but if she wants to get something done she has to work something out either today or tomorrow with the legislature."

Smith said several other state respect peoples lives and believe New York shouldn't be trailing at the back.

"I'm hoping that the governor will do the right thing for the citizens of New York, for the little girls, for the elderly folks, for anybody whose life has been devalued in the past and really recognize that ever single New York life matters," said Smith.

Families have been asked to RSVP for the Zoom call in order to receive the participation link.