After her historic victory as the first female elected Govenor of New York – largely thanks to Westchester County voters – Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill that would have granted lump sum death benefits to the beneficiaries of Westchester correction officers who are eligible to retire but die before retiring, to the disappointment of the Westchester County Correction Officers Benevolent Association (WCCOBA).
Just in time for Christmas, the Govenor thanked Westchester Correction Officers and their families for their votes with absolute disregard and distain, citing cost as her reason for vetoing the legislation, known as the “Death Gamble bill,” alongside 18 other bills aimed at providing municipal employees with retirement or disability benefits. Hochul denies Correction Officers and their families much-deserved benefits despite the fact that the Board of Legislators and CE George Latimer signed Resolution No. 94-2022 which supported the funding for this legislation by Westchester County.
“I fully support our public employees and appreciate the vital services they provide to New Yorkers; however, I cannot sign these bills because none of them include a funding source or plan to cover their costs in the current fiscal year or in future years,” Hochul wrote in her veto message. “The aggregate cost of these bills would impose a substantial burden on New York State taxpayers.”
It appears Westchester County isn’t the only voters she has turned her back on after the election. Records show her issuing at least 51 vetoes since the Nov. 8 election after refusing to take a stance on many touchy issues while courting support from voters and Albany Democrats as Republican challenger Lee Zeldin – who was endorsed by NYC Correction Officers – was breathing down her neck. The New York Post reports that Hochul has vetoed 51 bills since winning a full term in the Nov. 8 election.
“New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has unleashed a spigot of gubernatorial rejection over the past week after going 11 months without vetoing a single standalone bill passed by the state Legislature this year.”
In a December 20th letter to the Governor, WCCOBA President Neil Pellone expressed disappointment and frustration that the benefits were not granted to Westchester corrections officers and wardens because similar benefits were given to Nassau and Suffolk County jail employees as part of legislation passed in 2021.
As President of the Westchester County Correction Officers Benevolent Association, I write to share my disappointment in your recent veto of S8448/A9670, the “Death Gamble Bill” applicable to all uniformed staff at Westchester County Jail. This crucial legislation would have extended lump sum death benefits to the beneficiaries of Correction Officers who work past retirement eligibility but die before taking retirement. In 2021 you signed similar legislation for Nassau County Corrections. I am dismayed that you have decided to deny the same benefit to Westchester County Correction Officers, many of whom are your constituents and helped you handily win re-election this year.
According to your Veto Memorandum, the bill was rejected because it “did not include a funding source” or a plan to cover costs in the current or future years. You also indicated the bill would impose significant financial burdens on the State. I was stunned to hear this because it is simply untrue. Whether through inadvertence or otherwise, it seems you have overlooked the fact that a fiscal plan was attached to the Death Gamble Bill. Furthermore, earlier this year on May 23, 2022, the Westchester County Board of Legislators and County Executive George Latimer signed Resolution No. 94-2022 which supported the funding for this legislation by Westchester County. With this “home rule” in place, there would be no additional cost to NYS taxpayers on the State level.
With one stroke of your pen, you followed in your predecessor’s footsteps in showing a lack of understanding of my members and the critical challenges facing Corrections today. There is currently a statewide recruitment drought in jails and prisons. To combat this, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association recently went so far as to announce that they will allow certain counties to hire correction officers without requiring them to pass a state civil service exam. While Westchester County is not part of this group, it too needs the ability to retain a strong workforce to ensure jail and public safety. Incentives like the Death Gamble Bill encourage experienced officers to continue working with the knowledge that their families have financial security. Without a stable, reliable jail workforce, taxpayers will ultimately pay a much larger burden when facilities like Westchester DOC are forced to take extraordinary staffing measures.
Lastly, the women and men of my membership put their lives and safety on the line in the name of public safety every day. Their dedication and sacrifices are invaluable especially during times of crisis like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Your veto and mistaken understanding of the Death Gamble Bill sends a message that the sacrifices my members make to keep our communities safe is not valued.
If this is not the message you want to convey, I implore you to correct your misunderstanding about the Death Gamble Bill and show my members the support they deserve by signing it into law during the next session.
Sincerely, Neil Pellone, Westchester COBA President
What is never lost is that most Correction Officers in southern New York are Black and Brown—especially compared to police, who are majority white in the state. According to the many Correction Officers I spoke to, it has always been a battle to get anything beneficial to the health, wellness, and protection of their families.
Is this a case of Hochul’s decision to keep her veto pen in the drawer until after the election a blatant disregard for the voters or does it highlight a lack of political backbone. Did she just sell voters a bill of good until after she got elected? Either way if she had vetoed this bill before election, she may have lost the votes of Westchester Correction Officers and their families.
NYS Senator Robert Jackson who introduced the Death Gamble bill last year, also criticized the governor for denying much-deserved death gamble benefits to Westchester County Corrections.
“Rather than individually assess the merits of this bill, the Governor made a dubious argument that it would cost too much to fund all the civil service and pension related bills in the veto message and thus unilaterally denied a much-deserved death gamble benefit to public sector workers employed by Westchester County,” the senator’s chief of staff, Johanna Garcia, said. “Senator Jackson will be reintroducing this bill next year and will urge his colleagues in the Senate to pass the bill once again.”
To get further clarification on the matter I reached out to BW Publisher Damon K. Jones who is a Westchester Correction Officer with 33 years on the job, I will let his words take us out.
Unfortunately, the Governor has chosen to follow the rhetoric that the lives of Correction Officers and their families are not important. Every workday a Correction Officer can be exposed to HIV, TB, saliva, urine, feces, blood, vomit, semen, Staphylococcus infections, and others such as MRSA, H1N1, Hepatitis, and now COVID, which has taken the lives of many Correction Officers throughout the state.
Even with Health Safety precautions, there is a time that an officer can be exposed to these dangerous diseases that can put danger to their family and the community where they live. With all these risks, they still dawn the uniform of Justice, go to work, and stay the extra hours when needed to keep our jails safe for the citizens we serve. But the question is, what politician cares?
The people who work inside prisons are primarily responsible for the environment created behind the walls. Although corrections staff may not dictate standards and policies, they must interpret them and put them into practice. This takes its toll.
Corrections officers who work inside these facilities for 40 or more hours per week over 20 or more years are also subject to the restrictive nature of prison and the adverse effects that have on mental health. The life span of a Correction Officer is only 58, and many of us die of heart disease.
Researchers have only recently begun examining the psychosocial impact of prison work on corrections officers. Still, early studies show that officers have PTSD and commit suicide at rates much higher than law enforcement staff in other agencies and those in the military.
We monitor and keep safe the ones that society dont want in their community. Still, Democrats have legislated more laws to protect an inmate than the Correction Officer sworn to their safety.