Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R,C,I-Smithtown) is hailing Assembly passage of "hit, run and hide" legislation that will increase the penalties for drivers who leave the scene of fatal or personal injury accidents. The state Senate earlier passed the legislation and Gov. George Pataki said he will sign it into law.
Legislative approval came with 22 legislative days remaining in the 2005 session. Fitzpatrick is using the occasion to join his minority colleagues in calling on the Assembly to address legislative priorities, such as civil confinement and small business improvement, that are on the minority’s "must-do" list before adjourning.
"The hit, run and hide legislation provides added protection from the actions of cowardly, dangerous and sometimes drunk drivers who flee the scenes of accidents," said Fitzpatrick. "The legislation cannot replace or restore families devastated by thoughtless drivers, but it will eliminate a loophole in the current law and provide a sentence that more appropriately fits their crimes."
Under current law, drunk drivers who flee the scenes of accidents often receive lesser punishments than if they stayed and took responsibility for their actions or helped their victims.
Under the new law, the charge for leaving the scene of a fatal accident will increase from a Class E felony to a Class D felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison. The charge for leaving the scene of a personal injury accident will become a Class A misdemeanor rather than the current Class B misdemeanor.
"The Legislature has seven weeks before the end of the 2005 session, so we now need to focus our attention on civil confinement legislation and improving the economic health of small businesses throughout New York," said Fitzpatrick.
New York’s economy depends in large part on the success and growth of its small businesses, said Fitzpatrick. He noted that the Assembly minority has proposed the Small Business Improvement Act of 2005 to provide necessary assistance to small businesses by:
- Establishing a Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform in statute
- Expanding the Main Street Revitalization program (EZ Main Street) by providing grants to upgrade and renovate downtown and main street façades that, in turn, would encourage a rebirth of these important economic centers
- Restoring the 1 percent lower tax rate for small-business owners
- Providing small businesses with health insurance, training and energy tax credits.
"The backbone of any community is its small businesses. We need to protect and restore this vital economic resource to ensure growth and prosperity for the future," said Fitzpatrick.
Meanwhile, civil confinement would give judges the option of ordering dangerous sexual predators held in secure mental health facilities after the completion of their prison terms if the offenders are deemed to pose a continuing threat to society. Final decisions would be made only after lengthy review processes culminating in unanimous jury verdicts.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled civil confinement laws constitutional. In 1997, the court ruled that sex offenders deemed incorrigible can be held indefinitely in mental health facilities despite having served their full prison sentences. In 2001, the court ruled that civil confinement was constitutional because it is civil in nature and did not violate the Constitution’s "double-jeopardy" clause. In 2002, the court clarified the criteria states must meet to commit sexual predators, stating they must prove that offenders have "serious difficulty" controlling their violent behavior.
"The protection of our community, especially our children, from sexually violent predators is a must before this session ends in late June," said Fitzpatrick. "Far too often the news depicts a family’s tragedy, losing a loved one to a repeat sexually violent predator. We have the ability to put in place laws that can protect our communities and, hopefully, prevent this from happening here in New York."
Fitzpatrick noted that 16 states, including neighboring New Jersey and Massachusetts, have laws allowing state officials to initiate involuntary commitment processes against convicted sex offenders after they have served their sentences. Typically, a judge or jury must find offenders "sexually violent" or "sexually dangerous" within the state’s definition of the terms.
The Assembly minority has introduced civil confinement legislation since 1993 that has been ignored or blocked by the majority, noted Fitzpatrick. Since then, the state Senate has passed similar measures on several occasions, and Gov. George Pataki has pledged his support. The Assembly majority on Tuesday blocked an effort by the Assembly minority to bring three major child protection bills to the floor for a vote by the full house.