Unhappy lawmakers say they'll push back against Gov. Kathy Hochul's decision to veto legislation to create a team of 20 people to give state agencies feedback about the operations of group homes in New York.
It was one of dozens of measures the governor vetoed last week for various studies, task forces or commissions. They should be part of the next state budget negotiations, Hochul said in her veto message.
"I share a strong interest in addressing the problems and issues identified in this legislation, and I commend the Legislature for seeking to address such a broad array of problems," Hochul wrote. "…Because of the fiscal impact of this legislation, the proposals would be more appropriately considered in the context of the state budget process. Therefore, I am constrained to veto these bills."
Sponsor Sen. Shelley Mayer says the governor shouldn't have grouped her legislation in with the others.
The bill, which passed the Legislature this year with strong bipartisan support, would have created a group home working group comprised of facility residents and their caregivers to give input to the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities and the state Office for Addiction Services and Supports.
"This is not a study," said Mayer, a Yonkers Democrat. "This is not a task force that is to look at a problem — this is a bill to actually require the agency to deal more directly with the families."
Legislative leaders would appoint the working group's members to hold annual meetings in different regions and issue a report to both state agencies.
"It should be something that the agency does without legislative requirement," Mayer said.
People with developmental disabilities or those affected by substance abuse have struggled to have contact with the state about issues in group homes or how they operate, lawmakers and advocates said.
It's a personal fight for Assembly sponsor Angelo Santabarbara, whose 21-year-old son, Michael, lives in a group home for people with developmental disabilities.
"Quite frankly, there's no good reason to veto this bill," said Santabarbara, a Democrat from Rotterdam.
The appointed group members are not paid, so Santabarbara says the governor's cost concerns don't add up.
"The cost, if any, will be very minimal, and it will more likely be a reallocation of resources and not an increase in costs," he said.
The working group would meet and give recommendations to OPWDD and OASAS for three years and help departments with their five-year comprehensive plans.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted conditions of neglect, abuse and other issues in adult-care facilities around the state, and continues to be a top priority for lawmakers.
"Gov. Hochul is committed to ensuring people living in group homes are treated with dignity and care, and we will continue working with the Legislature on ways to protect and support people with developmental disabilities and those living in group homes," said Avi Small, Hochul's first deputy press secretary.
Lawmakers did not have an estimated cost for the working group to complete its task.
A spokesperson with the governor's office noted the Developmental Disabilities Advisory Council, which is comprised of advocates, family members, provider representatives and other stakeholders, is a work group that already exists to provide recommendations for statewide priorities, planning, resource allocation and evaluation processes for people with developmental disabilities.
"There is nothing in the text of the bill that would differentiate between this working group and others that were vetoed," the spokesperson added. "Many of the issues this work group would address can be addressed by or are already within the purview of the DDAC."
The decision to create the group is up to legislative leaders during this winter's budget negotiations.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes disagrees with the governor that the state doesn't have the resources available to implement the vetoed legislation.
"The governor — she is charged with not only trying to do things and create policy that takes care of all people, but she also has to be mindful of the resources," Peoples-Stokes said.
The top state Democrat from Buffalo says she's ready to fight for the group homes working group to be funded and other vetoed legislation in the next budget.
"If she's saying that's the problem, then I am fully prepared, and I believe many of my colleagues are as well, to go back and fix that problem through the budget process," Peoples-Stokes said.
Budget negotiations will begin after the governor releases her draft financial plan in January.
Mayer says she'll be reintroducing the bill in the Legislature before the New Year, and will continue pushing the matter with Hochul's office before her budget proposal.
"We're not going to be deterred in being a voice for these family members," Mayer said. "The challenge is to move ahead to make sure that this is about the voices of family members."