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NYS Assemblyman Circumvents Transportation Chair, Forces Angelica's Law Onto Agenda

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Ten years ago, 14-year-old Angelica Nappi was killed by a driver who had no business on the road.

Since then, her mother has been pushing for Angelica's Law, but her efforts have been blocked by one powerful leader in Albany. As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, there's now a move to work around him.

"I think it's absolutely insane. Ten years, one man, nothing gets done," Dawn Nappi told Gusoff.

For a decade she's been fighting for what she calls a no-brainer. Her bipartisan Angelica's Law would make it a felony to drive with more than five license suspensions.

"Every year, more and more people die at the hands of people who are driving with suspended revoked licenses," said Nappi. "Clearly there's a problem."

Angelica's Law Mom
Ten years ago, Long Island teenager Angelica Nappi died in a crash caused by a driver who had his license suspended seven times. Her mother says New York State still lets chronically suspended drivers off with a slap on the wrist. (credit: CBS2)

More: 'This Is A No-Brainer:' LI Mom Fighting For Angelica's Law Confronts Lawmakers 10 Years After Daughter's Death

Her 14-year-old daughter, Angelica, was killed by a driver who ignored seven suspensions and ran a red light. Under New York State law, that's just a misdemeanor. A felony kicks in at 10 suspensions.

But when Nappi questioned the assemblyman blocking the bill even from committee debate, she got a brush-off.

Nappi: "Maybe it has to happen to one of your own for you to do something about it."

Assemblyman David Gantt: "What does that mean? That sounds racial."

Nappi: "No, it isn't. Maybe one of your loved ones has to be affected."

The chairman of the Transportation Committee also refused to explain his opposition to a Rochester reporter.

"I don't talk to the news media," Gantt said. "Because I don't."

He's the same chair who blocked New York City red light cameras a decade ago. The New York Times called his iron fist control, "micromanaging traffic from afar and for bewildering reasons."

Even now, bills can live and die at the hands of all-powerful committee chairs.

"New York is unusual in this regard," New York Public Research Interest Group CEO Blair Horner told Gusoff. "We've made many recommendations to further democratize the legislative process."

Efforts at reform have failed. Republicans in the Assembly proposed term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs.

Minority Leader Brian Kolb says the Albany way must change.

"Too much power is concentrated in too few hands, and this is why you have an abuse of power," he said.

Now, there's a Hail-Mary from the bill's Republican sponsor, Assemblyman Dean Murray, who's turned in what's called a 99 form, which forces the bill into the committee agenda.

"It's risky, because you don't want to anger the chair, if you will," he said.

His only move, he says, is to circumvent a stacked system.

"When you get to the point where you have one person who can put a halt to the process, that's bad and that's what we have right now," said Murray. "It is anything but democratic."

He said he would modify the bill to apply only to moving violation suspensions.

Now, Gantt must put Angelica's Law on the committee's agenda by the end of the session.

When might that be? That's one of the many questions his office has not responded to.

CBS2 repeatedly reached out to not only Gantt but also Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie about the unexplained blocking of the law. Neither responded.

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