This article by Michael Gormley originally appeared in Newsday.
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have expanded disability benefits to Nassau County corrections officers who are assaulted by visitors to inmates.
The veto outraged the county corrections officers union.
Currently, workers at the Nassau County Correctional Center are eligible for 75 percent of their pay in disability benefits if they are permanently disabled by direct actions of an inmate. This bill would extend that compensation for assaults by free citizens, including former inmates who are visiting incarcerated people. The measure follows a few confrontations that resulted in minor injuries when contraband was being passed to an inmate, according to the bill.
“An assault is an assault,” said Brian Sullivan, president of the Nassau Correctional Benevolent Association union.
He said a corrections officer who is assaulted and permanently disabled by a visitor or even an inmate as he or she is discharged from jail is now only eligible for 33 percent of salary.
Sullivan and the bill’s sponsors agree that the assaults have been rare and often involve the seizure of drugs or other contraband. Sullivan said there have only been a couple incidents in the last 10 years and none resulted in permanent disability.
Cuomo, however, said the Legislature, which passed it outside of the April budget agreement, didn’t include funding. On Thursday, Cuomo vetoed several bills that would sweeten public employee benefits, but didn’t include a specific new funding source.
“As the Legislature has failed to appropriate any funds to pay for these benefits, I cannot support a package of bills that would necessarily impose a substantial and unplanned burden on New York state taxpayers,” Cuomo said in his veto message.
The cost would appear to be minimal because the county overwhelmingly agreed to shoulder some of it, Sullivan said. The Senate and Assembly passed the bill nearly unanimously.
“It’s mind boggling to me that with all this bipartisan support this protection wouldn’t be extended,” Sullivan said. “It’s unconscionable.”