Many moons ago, we wrote on a piece of legislation called the Grieving Families Act in New York State. It’s time to revisit it, since a lot has happened on this legislation since we wrote about it on our blog in September 2022.
The Grieving Families Act is designed to right a wrong that has existed for over 150 years, which is that wrongful death lawsuits were based on the deceased individual’s earning potential, and not even consider the emotional impact these deaths had on the family and friends left behind. The Grieving Families Act would’ve righted this wrong, as it would’ve allowed considerations based on emotional impact. It’s a wrong that’s especially important to right given the emotional grief from all who’ve been lost in wrongful deaths in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic (though obviously, all wrongful deaths, even ones outside of COVID-19, are important here).
Last year, this legislation passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the New York State Legislature, with significant bipartisan support. As it turns out, it’s an issue that crosses party lines.
Governor Kathy Hochul did the most shameful thing possible: veto the bill, and do so over the holidays, no less. The holidays are a time when people are grieving their deceased loved ones the most, including and especially deceased loved ones who died wrongful deaths. Saying that Hochul was tone-deaf to how it’s the holidays, and how it’s therefore a time when the people helped most by this bill are hurting, would be a complete understatement.
And also, because it’s the holidays, most of the press’s attention is not on the unsavory action of the Governor’s veto. Politicians often like to release the most unsavory of stuff when nobody is looking—usually meaning that it happens around or during the holidays. This act from the Governor shows that Hochul is no different, for she released what was an unpopular veto (if the overwhelming votes in the legislature are any indication) on the Friday before the New Year’s Day weekend. Governor Hochul, if you think that nobody was going to pay attention by vetoing this legislation with such timing, think again. If anything, your timing couldn’t possibly be more insensitive and hurtful.
Since Hochul won’t do her job of providing justice to these grieving New Yorkers, it’s time for the legislature to do theirs. They can, and should, override her veto. Veto overrides are historically very rare in New York State, but they’ve been done before. Furthermore, the numbers are there to override a veto. You need a two-thirds vote in both houses of the New York State Legislature, and if the previous votes in the New York State Legislature are any indication (131-12 in the Assembly, and 55-7 in the Senate), the votes are there to override Hochul’s veto. And if anything deserves a veto override, it is on an issue this serious, with veto timing as shameful as this timing.
Families of those who experienced wrongful deaths in New York deserve justice. Gray Panthers NYC still believes that the Grieving Families Act helps with that, and because of that, we call on our elected officials in the New York State Assembly and New York State Senate to override Governor Hochul’s veto.
Find your New York State Senator here, and find your New York State Assembly Member here, so that you can urge them to override Hochul’s veto of the Grieving Families Act. And below, you will find sample text that you can write to your elected official.
SAMPLE LETTER URGING YOUR ELECTED OFFICIAL TO HELP OVERTURN GRIEVING FAMILIES ACT VETO
Dear [ELECTED OFFICIAL],
For over 150 years, wrongful death lawsuits were based on the deceased individual’s earning potential, and not even consider the emotional impact these deaths had on the family and friends left behind. This is wrong, and I feel that the Grieving Families Act (A6698/S6636) would remedy this wrong.
I am therefore grateful that both legislative bodies passed the Grieving Families Act. I am similarly disturbed that Governor Hochul vetoed it.
But it’s not just that Governor Hochul vetoed a bill that would’ve brought some semblance of justice for many New Yorkers. She vetoed the bill during what is possibly the worst, most painful time for the grieving families who would’ve been helped if she signed this into law: the holidays. She vetoed it on December 29th, the Friday before New Year’s Day weekend, the Friday after Christmas. The timing to veto any such legislation is never good, but the timing of her veto hurts particularly deeply for me, and for fellow constituents who would’ve benefited from the signing of this law.
While I know veto overrides are usually rare in New York State, I urge you to work with your colleagues to override Governor Hochul’s veto of the Grieving Families Act. There is enough backing for the bill in both chambers to override her veto (passing 131-12 in the Assembly, and 55-7 in the Senate). Furthermore, this issue is important enough, and the timing of Hochul’s veto is insensitive enough, that the only reasonable remedy is to override her veto.
Thank you for your service, and I look forward to seeing this bill move forward.