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NY's new laws include mandating seat belts in stretch limos

A limousine heading east on Route 48 and

A limousine heading east on Route 48 and Depot Lane in Cutchogue makes a legal U-turn to head west on July 22, 2015.  Credit: Randee Daddona

ALBANY — Seat belts will be required in stretch limousines and more polling sites will be open for early voting beginning in 2021 under new state laws effective Jan. 1.

Each bill has Long Island roots.

The seat belt law stems from the 2015 crash of a limousine on Suffolk's North Fork that killed four young people and injured four more.

"It’s a long day in coming," said Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), the bill’s sponsor, in an interview. "The aftermath of the Long Island crash is the one that gave me the impetus to do these bills."

The new law requires all limos altered into stretch limos on or after Jan. 1 to have seat belts. All stretch limos altered before Jan. 1 will have two years to retrofit the vehicles with seat belts.

This is the latest accomplishment of the relatives of victims of the Cutchogue crash. They joined lobbying forces with relatives of the victims of an upstate limousine crash to make for-hire limousines safer. Twenty people died in the 2018 Schoharie County crash.

Since those tragedies, the State Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo toughened laws regarding the safety inspections and operation of the limousines, which are popular for proms, weddings, birthdays and winery tours.

The newest limo law requires that signs in the limo alert passengers to seat belts. The law, however, doesn’t penalize riders who don’t use them.

"I think the penalty is a self-imposed one, where you know the outcome and you can see the outcome if you don’t," Paulin said.

Another new law will require most counties to provide at least one early voting site in its most populated municipality. Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany) sponsored the measure after Rensselaer County set up two early voting sites, both of which were outside the population center, the city of Troy, and without access by public transportation.

"The two voting places … really prevented a lot of people from the city of Troy from easy access to early voting," Breslin said.

The law co-sponsored by Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) also requires counties to provide at least 10 sites accessible by public transportation for use during the nine days of early voting before election days. The original 2019 law called for a minimum of seven sites throughout a county. The new law continues to require at least one early voting site for every 50,000 registered voters in a county and at least one early polling place in counties with fewer than 50,000 voters.

On Long Island, the city of Glen Cove with a population of 27,000 didn’t have an early voting site.

"It seems the City of Glen Cove would qualify for a site, but it didn’t," Gaughran said. "You really need to make sure that all voters have reasonable access to the extent practicable to early voting sites."

He said the county Board of Elections, in choosing early voting sites, was hampered by a lack of funding to satisfy all needs. Gaughran said the state needs to provide more funding to establish more early voting sites so that voters don’t have to face long lines to vote early.

"It’s extremely popular," Gaughran said. "You want the sites to be where you can get as many voters to participate as possible."

In the 2020 election, more than 1.5 million New Yorkers took advantage of early voting.

"Early voting is here to stay," Gaughran said.

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