New York State Senate Stalls “Briana’s Law”

ssistant State Assembly Speaker Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) speaks outside City Hall

Assistant State Assembly Speaker Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) speaks outside City Hall

By Patrick Vernon Ralph

“Briana’s Law,” a bill which would require police officers in the State of New York to be re-certified in CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) training every two years, has passed the New York State Assembly for five straight years since it was originally introduced in 2011.

The bill has strong bipartisan support, with Assembly members from both parties serving as co-sponsors on the legislation. However, “Briana’s Law” has been dead on arrival for five straight years in the New York State Senate.

“I’ve been in the game for 25 years and I still can’t understand the Senate,” said Assemblyman Jeff Aubry (D-Queens), who is a co-sponsor of “Briana’s Law.” “Ensuring police officers are trained in CPR and AED makes sense.”

“Briana’s Law” is named after Briana Ojeda who, as an 11-year-old in 2010, had an asthma attack and was rushed to the hospital by her mother. Stopped by a police officer on her way, Briana’s mother Carmen Ojeda urged the officer for help. However, the officer said he was uncomfortable with CPR and did not know how to perform it. Briana was dead by the time she arrived to the emergency room.

“It is imperative that police officers are adequately trained in the administration of CPR”, said Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), assistant speaker in the Assembly and the primary sponsor of the legislation, in a statement. “This easy to learn procedure has been proven to save lives in emergency situations and could have helped save the life of Briana Ojeda and others.”

According to Robin Vitale, who is the senior director of government relations for the American Heart Association, opponents of “Briana’s Law” are concerned that the costs on municipalities to provide biennial life-saving skills training could be too high and that the source of funding for these training programs is unclear.

But this is an argument Vitale and the bill’s sponsors are not buying.

“We’re not talking about a huge expense,” said Vitale. “If we’re talking about a minor input from municipalities into the budget, it should not be a huge concern for other municipalities.”

“I don’t see a legitimate reason to oppose this,” said Assemblyman Aubry. “It makes no sense that we don’t want all our first responders trained in CPR and AED.”

According to supporters of the legislation, another reason why “Briana’s Law” may be struggling in the Senate is because of politics. While the Assembly is controlled by Democrats, the Senate is controlled by Republicans. With the Democrats holding power in the executive branch as well, the Senate might be the only outlet for Republicans to stop Democrats from fulfilling their legislative agenda.

New York State Senate Republicans did not respond to a request to comment.

In a statement, State Senator Leroy Comrie (D-Queens) said that “Briana’s Law, which previously had passed in the Assembly, has unfortunately not passed in the Senate because the majority conference is blocking it.” Senator Comrie is a co-sponsor on the Senate version of the bill.

Supporters of “Briana’s Law” can’t seem to understand why Senate Republicans might be playing politics on this issue.

“I’ve been part of a lot of partisan battles over the years, but I just can’t get it on this issue,” said Assemblyman Aubry. “Then you have to look at external forces, which could be organizations like unions and municipalities.”

“Republicans and Democrats in the State Assembly have set aside their differences to pass this bill nearly unanimously, but it continues to stall under the Senate Republican Majority”, said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) in a statement. “The bottom line is this: this is a life-saving measure, and there’s no reason not to pass it.”

Despite failure, advocates of “Briana’s Law” are not giving up their fight to get this bill passed. 

“Maybe we need to amend the bill for just New York City police officers and first responders”, said Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens), who serves as a co-sponsor on the bill. “Doing that might make it easier to pass the Senate.”

Advocates of “Briana’s Law” acknowledge that the most important key to getting it passed will be exposure.

“The more other organizations are being known of how they are connected to this issue, it will bring more to the conversation,” said Joyce Elie, who serves as chief of staff to Assemblyman Nick Perry (D-Brooklyn). “More exposure to constituents and the community will get this legislation moving.”

“One day, hopefully soon, this bill will pass,” Elie added.