Gov. David A. Paterson vetoed a bill over the weekend that would have significantly increased the legal penalties for assaults against cabbies, overturning a nearly unanimous vote in the Legislature.
A product of months of lobbying by drivers’ groups, the Taxi Driver Protection Act would have required yellow cabs and livery cars to post a sticker notifying passengers that an assault on a driver “is punishable by up to 25 years in prison,” a warning similar to those found on the region’s subways and commuter trains.
The bill, which passed both houses in June, would also have required judges to tack five additional years onto prison terms for a felony assault on a driver and instated a mandatory two-year minimum for misdemeanor assaults.
It was the latter requirement that hit a snag with the governor. In a memorandum accompanying his veto, Mr. Paterson, while acknowledging that cabbies engage in “a dangerous profession,” argued that the bill would have subverted the legal meaning of a misdemeanor, traditionally defined as an offense punishable by a year’s prison term or less.
To Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, the veto — and its justification on a technicality — came as a shock. “It’s heartbreaking, but it’s enraging,” she said on Monday. “There’s no doubt that drivers are among the most vulnerable workers in New York State. It was the first time we had hope that a bill would be passed.”
Ms. Desai pointed to the recent attack on a Muslim cabby whose throat was slashed by, the authorities say, a college student, as an example of the “brutal” working conditions faced by drivers. “This was the desire of a work force to get home safe at the end of a shift,” she said.
The legislation had the support of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose office urged Mr. Paterson earlier this month to sign the bill, and the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. But Mr. Paterson insisted that the “sentencing anomalies” created by the legislation would further complicate an already byzantine state legal system.
The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Rory I. Lancman, a Queens Democrat, said the decision was “a real shame.”
“Every day that we delay giving taxi drivers additional protection from assault, it creates a statistical certainty that some number of taxi drivers are going to get assaulted because we failed to protect them,” Mr. Lancman said. “And whatever technical concern the governor might have had about the methodology could have been resolved the next time we were in session in Albany.”
In his veto message, Mr. Paterson chided Mr. Lancman specifically, asserting that the assemblyman supported the measure “perhaps because of the pandering opportunity presented by the political appeal of this particular bill.”
“That’s not even a press release — this is the official governor’s veto message!” said Mr. Lancman, who discovered the passage while on the telephone with Off the Rails. “That is really shocking, and kind of inappropriate. I’m a big boy, I’m used to it, but that is shocking and inappropriate.”
The governor’s office had no comment beyond Mr. Paterson’s written statement.