Gov. Hochul Signs Legislation Package to Improve State Response to COVID-19 Pandemic; Makes Falsification of Vaccination Records a Felony

(Photo Source: governor.ny.gov).

Press release from governor.ny.gov. 

Governor Kathy Hochul today signed a package of legislation that will improve New York’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This legislative package will take a major step forward in the State’s efforts to increase vaccination rates and study the effects this pandemic has had on our economy and health care system.

“We need to make sure we learn the lessons of the pandemic so we don’t make the same mistakes twice,” Governor Hochul said. “These new laws will help us improve our response to the pandemic now, crack down on fraudulent use of vaccination records, and help us better understand the areas of improvement we need to make to our health care system so we can be even more prepared down the road.”

Falsification of COVID-19 Vaccination Records

Legislation (S.4516-C/A.7536-B adds clarification that a COVID Vaccination Card shall be considered a written instrument for purposes of the forgery statute which makes the falsification of COVID-19 Vaccination Cards​ a class D felony. It also creates a new E felony of computer tampering in the third degree for intentional entering, alteration or destruction of “computer material” regarding COVID-19 vaccine provisions. Individuals who misrepresent their vaccination history, not only jeopardize their own health, but the health of all those they come into contact with. This legislation ensures that as New York opens up and many businesses choose to rely on checking vaccination status, the falsification of vaccination records will not be tolerated.​

Senator Anna M. Kaplan said, “With the omicron variant putting our community at greater risk and threatening the progress we’ve made recovering from the pandemic, countless employers, schools, small businesses, and communities are relying on genuine proof of vaccination status as a tool to keep their spaces safe from COVID transmission. It’s never been more urgent that we protect this process from fraud so that the health and safety of the public isn’t compromised by bad actors using fraudulent vaccination cards or passports. The ‘Truth in Vaccination’ law will serve as a strong deterrent to prevent people from lying about their vaccination status, protecting public health, and ensuring our economic recovery can move forward. I’m grateful for Governor Hochul’s leadership in combating this crisis, and I’m thankful for my partnership with Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz to get this critical law passed through the legislature.”

Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz said, “The data is clear on vaccination requirements – they work. However, the remarkable ease at which it appears that New Yorkers could falsify vaccination records to feign compliance is astonishing. This new law will undoubtedly help prosecutors and other law enforcement hold people accountable for the damage they are doing to public health by undermining the efficacy of vaccination requirements in workplaces, businesses, restaurants, and more. Thank you to Governor Hochul for signing this legislation into law, and to State Senator Kaplan for her partnership leading this bill through the other chamber.”

Improving Schools Access to the Statewide Immunization Database

Legislation (S.4962/A.5062) gives schools improved access to the statewide immunization database, requiring the Department of Health (DOH) to allow every school access to the immunization records for their students. Currently, schools that are not school based health-centers have read-only access to the New York State Immunization Information System (NYSIIS). This leads to schools ​having to individually search each of their student’s immunization records and manually downloading them into their database. With the recent surge in students five to eighteen getting vaccinated, allowing schools the ability to download their full roster of vaccination data will save hours for staff, and improve the infection response from schools.

Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick said, “This new law allows school nurses to spend more time focusing on the health of the kids in their care than on tedious bureaucratic tasks. I was proud to sponsor this bipartisan legislation to cut red tape and make sure that healthcare professionals in schools spend more time caring, and less time typing. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we need to make our healthcare and education systems more efficient, more compassionate, and more effective, and this law is an important part of the package of bills the Governor has signed to keep New York moving in the right direction.”

Assemblymember Dr. Anna R. Kelles said, “School nurses have played a critical role in the health and mental well-being of school children over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. We owe it to our children to ensure nurses are caring for them and not bogged down with data entry. Nurses spent thousands of hours manually inputting students’ records. This law allows nurses to focus on students not data. This is particularly vital as students struggle with heightened levels of mental and emotional issues related to the pandemic, which, especially in young children, often present as stomach aches, pain, and headaches. School nurses have been on the front lines of this crisis and I am grateful to Governor Hochul for signing this bill today and relieving some of their burden.”

DOH to Conduct Medical Care Study Related to the Pandemic

Legislation (S.6375/A.5713) directs the Commissioner of Health to conduct a study of the delivery of ambulatory care and other medical care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.The commissioner will then make recommendations to improve the delivery, quality, accessibility, and cost of the full range of ambulatory health care services required by the community. The findings and recommendations will then be published on DOH’s website. This bill will help to improve medical access for New Yorkers, especially those in public hospital deserts that rely on ambulatory care more heavily. A similar study was conducted in 2017, so this is an opportunity to see how the pandemic has affected our medical care system.

Senator Diane Savino said, “There are no public hospitals located on Staten Island and several other areas throughout the state, resulting in public hospital deserts. This study of ambulatory health services in the state in response to the COVID -19 pandemic will help provide a roadmap to where state resources are and where they need to be.  I commend my colleague Assemblyman Charles Fall for bringing this issue to that forefront and I thank Governor Kathy Hochul for signing this bill into law.”

Assemblymember Charles D. Fall said, “Since there are no public hospitals located on Staten Island and in certain parts of New York State, many residents rely on community-based health care for a wide variety of medical services, including physicals, injury related and illness diagnosis and care, rapid lab tests and screening, pediatric care and women’s wellness needs for some of the most vulnerable residents. As we continue to address this pandemic and its variants, which continues to wreak havoc on our daily lives, we need to make sure that residents continue to receive their healthcare needs. Having residents who may be elderly or lack reliable transportation to travel to another facility during heightened federal and state protocols is detrimental to the well-being of all New York residents, especially those residing on the North Shore of Staten Island. I want to thank Senator Savino for championing this bill in the Senate.”

DFS to Conduct Study on COVID-19 Impact

Legislation (S.6070-A/A.7324-A) directs the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to conduct a study on impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on underbanked and underserved areas, small businesses and minority- and women-owned business enterprises getting loans. Minority and low-income areas were hit especially hard by the pandemic, so this legislation will provide State government officials on how banking was effected in these communities and what solutions there are to create more accessible banking.

Senator Sanders Jr. said, “Because minority and low-income communities were disproportionately impacted by the COVID19 pandemic it is important for policymakers and the public to understand the impact of banking or lack of banking may have had on these communities. We need to study and learn what we can do to support these communities in the future when it comes to the banking sector.”

Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson said, “I am encouraged that Governor Hochul has signed my bill (A-7324A/S-06070A) into law, which will shine a light on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in unbanked and underbanked communities. Banking is an essential tool for promoting financial health for residents and increasing access to capital for small businesses and MWBEs, particularly in Black and brown communities across New York City and State.

As Chair of the Subcommittee on Banks in Underserved Communities, I am committed to helping rebuild banking infrastructure in historically under-resourced communities. I commend the Governor for prioritizing this critical study to promote economic recovery for residents and small business owners in Black and brown communities statewide who struggle with access to credit and capital.”