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Guv kills Lancman bill to protect taxi drivers

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State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) criticized Gov. David Paterson’s decision to veto a bill last week that he said would deter attacks against taxi drivers, such as the Jamaica man allegedly stabbed by a passenger in his cab.

“It’s a tremendous disappoint­ment,” Lancman said. “Hopefully, we’ll override this veto or address the governor’s purported concerns.”

The legislation, which was sponsored by Lancman, would have required a sign to be posted in each taxi cab alerting passengers to the penalties for assaulting drivers, including jail time of up to 25 years, which the assemblyman said could help to prevent attacks.

Ahmad Sharif, a Jamaica resident originally from Bangladesh, was allegedly stabbed by a passenger in his cab, Michael Enright, of Brewster, N.Y., in August, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The upstate man allegedly slashed Sharif with a knife after asking him if he was Muslim, the DA said.

The bill, passed by an overwhelming majority in the state Legislature in June, also would have required judges to add five years onto prison terms for individuals convicted of felony assault on a driver. It would also have implemented a mandatory two-year minimum sentence for misdemeanor assaults on drivers.

While Paterson said he agreed with much of the bill, he said he vetoed it because of the mandatory two-year sentence, which he said “will only make our already complicated sentence structure in New York even more complex and difficult to understand.”

He also chided Lancman in his veto message, saying the Fresh Meadows legislator may have supported the legislation “perhaps because of the pandering opportunity presented by the political appeal of this particular bill.”

Lancman said he was surprised by this message because he had worked with the governor’s office for months on this bill.

“I’ve already spoken with someone from the governor’s office on potentially working out a compromise,” Lancman said. “I’m all for meeting him halfway.”

The bill, which Lancman sponsored prior to the attack on Sharif, had gained the support of a number of groups, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city Taxi & Limousine Commission and the Sikh Coalition.

“Although New York City’s for-hire transportation industry is renowned for providing safe and reliable service to the riding public, the work of operators leaves them vulnerable to the threat of violence,” Bloomberg wrote in a Sept. 9 letter to Paterson. “This was evident in a highly publicized incident last month, when a New York City taxi driver was attacked from the back seat of his vehicle by an unprovoked young man wielding a knife.”

The Sikh Coalition noted taxi drivers have been subject to an increased number of attacks or threats since Sept. 11, 2001.

“In the post-9/11 environment, taxi drivers have unfortunately fallen victim to violent assaults based on their actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity and national origin,” Rajdeep Singh, director of law and policy at the Sikh Coalition, said in a Sept. 7 letter to Paterson. “As recently as last month, a Muslim taxi driver in Manhattan was slashed in the neck and face on account of his religion.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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