Funding for Developmentally Disabled Partially Restored; Creating the Crime for Staging Auto Accidents; and Improving ATV Rider Conditions

By Assemblyman Will Barclay
There have been quite a few newsworthy items coming out of Albany in recent weeks. I want to share a few of them with you in this column pertaining to health services funding, insurance fraud, and tourism.

Increased Funding for Developmentally Disabled

There has been both a local and statewide effort to maintain funding for the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). This year’s budget cut $90 million from OPWDD.  Meanwhile, we gave tax credits to the film industry to the tune of $420 million. While the tax credits will purportedly create jobs, those high-profile jobs should not come at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens.

To that end, I support legislation recently introduced that would increase funding for OPWDD by taking money earmarked for film tax credits and giving it to OPWDD.

However, some good news has emerged.

It  was recently reported that some money will be restored to OPWDD. Additional money will be provided to OPWDD from the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General’s audit recoveries. While I’m pleased our state leaders found additional monies for OPWDD, Albany should not continue this preferential treatment of the high-profile film industry at the cost of our developmentally disabled. Perhaps it would be better to have those recovered monies be reinvested into further efforts to reduce Medicaid fraud.

Alice’s Law Would Make Staging Accident a Crime

I support legislation that would make staging an auto accident a crime unto itself.

Unfortunately, many people stage auto accidents in an attempt to falsely collect insurance claims. In fact, in 2003, Alice Ross, a 71-year-old wife and grandmother, was killed as a result of a staged auto accident. This was a terrible loss and crime. No family should suffer the loss and tragedy that the Ross family endured. We need to make these criminals pay for staging auto accidents by increasing penalties.

Staging auto accidents is not only a hazard but increases the no-fault insurance rates as well. Perpetrators of these types of crime file fraudulent insurance claims for fake crash injuries and end up robbing insurance companies.

Indeed, just this past weekend, the Syracuse paper reported a detailed story about residents from Utica who filed a false police report, defrauded insurance companies and doctors after reporting fake injuries that totaled more than $1 million. Insurance companies blame this activity as a major reason why no-fault insurance rates are as high as they are in this state.

I’m hopeful with increased penalties and creating a penalty that would mean prison time, the perpetrators will think twice before “acting” this one out and putting more lives at risk.

It appears as though, while everyone can agree that this is a problem, how to classify and punish the crime is debatable. The Assembly passed a measure last year which created a crime of staging an auto accident and so did the Senate. However, the Senate’s bill contained harsher penalties and, therefore, the Senate and the Assembly could not come together on an agreed upon bill.

Hopefully, these differences will be worked out through the houses so we can pass this legislation because staged accidents are clearly a problem that affects everyone’s safety and insurance rates, whether they realize it or not.

ATV Rides: Leave it to the Locals

I sponsor legislation that would allow local municipalities to designate a highway or portion of a highway open for travel by an all terrain vehicle, so riders can gain access to areas or trails adjacent to the highways.

ATV trails provide a regional tourism option and great pastime for residents who wish to enjoy our natural bounty. Besides enabling riders to enjoy the great outdoors, ATVs have a significant economic impact on our region. A study published in 2006 estimated the economic impact just for the Tughill region, which encompasses four North Country counties including Jefferson and St. Lawrence, adds about $35 million to the regional economy. The study also estimated that ATVs support 369 full-time-equivalent jobs and generated $1.49 million in tax revenue.

Since the time of the study in 2006, the number of riders has grown.

Passing small measures such as this would mean a lot to ATV riders and it wouldn’t take any additional state resources to enact this law. This bill is currently in the transportation committee. I’m urging my colleagues to advance this measure but I find it’s a matter of getting our Downstate legislators to understand rural Upstate’s great pastimes.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.

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