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Legislation To Help Hearing Impaired Moves Forward

Legislation that would require local governments to provide interpreters or listening devices upon request is one-third of the way to becoming law.

The state Assembly earlier this week passed A.3385, sponsored by Assemblywoman Inez Dickens, D-New York City.

The law requires public officers and public bodies to make reasonable efforts to provide qualified interpreters at no charge for the hearing impaired at public meetings and hearings upon written request and to install and use assistive listening devices.

The legislation was approved 114-23, with Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voting against the bill and Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voting in favor. A vote has not yet been scheduled in the state Senate. The legislation was passed last year by the Assembly but not in the Senate.

Goodell and Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, questioned the impact the legislation would have on local governments. The legislation would impact any public meeting room that can be occupied by more than 100 people

“This would apply to public meetings. not private meetings,” Dickens said. “Public meetings, that’s what we can legislate on is public hearings and public facilities. Not every township or village has a public building and many of them do it together. It would give a larger crowd and those that are hearing impaired are frequently not allowed to participate because they don’t hear what’s going on themselves. This will help to alleviate those problems.”

Goodell said he appreciates Dickens’ intent but said the state Legislature must be wary of imposing additional costs on local governments, particularly when asking local governments to provide a service the state Assembly itself does not provide.

“We don’t comply with this bill ourselves,” Goodell said. “There’s nothing that prevents us from complying, but we don’t comply ourselves. We don’t have an interpreter here; we don’t have assisted hearing devices here. We should start by showing leadership by example. Second, we are now in the budget process. It’s so easy for us to pass legislation that imposes costs on others. If we’re serious about improving this area we as the Assembly should provide the funds so that all of our school districts in all their gymnasiums and auditoriums and all our fire departments and all their meetings rooms and villages and towns and counties have the funds to do what we are asking of them.”

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