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Unless you’ve been stuck on a remote desert island, you probably know that New York state has a national reputation for its high taxes.

That dubious distinction has never deterred Gov. Andrew Cuomo nor his aggressive economic development team from touting the Empire State as an ideal place to do business. At the same time, it’s common knowledge that New Yorkers end up paying exorbitant costs for health care, auto insurance, and publicly-funded projects, schools and municipal buildings, to name a few.

Yet there’s another side to this story, featured in a recent report from the Empire Center, an Albany-based non-partisan, independent think-tank. The center’s prime mission is to help New York become a better place to live and work. The co-authors of the report, attorneys Cary Silverman and Mark Behrens, point out that our present state laws tend to foster a widespread practice of civil suits. The two lawyers estimated statewide liability costs upwards of $20 billion a year (more than $2,700 per household.)

For starters, New York’s outdated Scaffold Law still threatens property owners and contractors with full and absolute liability whenever a worker falls at a construction site, even if the accident happens to really be the employee’s fault.

State Sen. Robert Ortt, (R-North Tonawanda), is co-sponsoring legislation to reform it. “With the multitude of issues taking place in our state now, I can’t speak as to what will happen in this session regarding the law. We’re focused on taking the necessary steps to reduce the state’s overwhelming cost of doing business,” he said.

Assemblyman Mike Norris (R-Lockport) raises a valid point too. “If we’re serious about making ‘NY Open for Business,’ we must take steps to address the high taxes and burdensome laws and regulations that deter business from coming to our state and force many to leave, consisting thousands of jobs every year.” The lawmaker notes the current “blanket absolute liability standard” placed on property owners and contractors without taking into consideration any culpability of the employees is far too strict.

Norris is correct when he contends that reforms would lower the costs of construction across the state and allow for more development, more jobs, higher employee wages, better value for consumers and a stronger economy.

He’s also right on the money when he adds, “NY Open for Business” should be more than a slogan. It should translate to action.

Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, said he understands the matter is in the process of being moved to the Judiciary Committee. He stressed that he has always been for employee safety but it’s important to consider “comparative negligence” in any such instances. The assemblyman added there has to a sense of fairness. It’s hoped the legislation on the books can be modified, he said.

At a cursory glance, it is apparent the present provisions of the Scaffold Law have proved profitable to attorneys. Several media reports have shed light on aggressive lawyers expanding their efforts to secure more business. They’re going the full route, handing out T-shirts to workers at construction sites, trying to get new cases.

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