Faso takes last whack at Scaffold Law from DC

Rep. John Faso has made a final stab at undercutting New York’s 133-year-old Scaffold Law before leaving Congress, suggesting in a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao that her department could preempt the law by requiring a “comparative negligence” standard for any construction projects getting federal grants.

Inserting that requirement in federal contracts might accomplish through administrative action what Faso, a Republican freshman who lost his re-election bid this month, had tried to do through legislation. He had introduced a bill last year that would deny federal funds to construction projects that use New York’s “absolute liability” standard, which makes contractors and property owners fully responsible in court for workplace injuries caused by falls. He and other critics of the Scaffold Law, which set that rule in 1885, argue the law is archaic and inflates public construction costs in New York.

The House Judiciary Committee narrowly approved Faso’s bill in a party-line vote in January, with Democrats defending New York’s law as an important safety protection for construction workers and Republicans decrying it for wasting taxpayer money. The bill was never brought to the House floor and had no Senate sponsor.

In a Nov. 16 letter to Chao, Faso argued the new Tappan Zee Bridge would have cost $200 milllion – or 5 percent – less if the Scaffold Law wasn’t in place to drive up contractors’ liability insurance premiums. He warned the law would have the same effect on the critically needed Gateway project, which would create new rail tunnels under the Hudson between New York City and New Jersey.

“I urge you to use your regulatory authority to preempt this burdensome state law with conditional contracts for all federally supported projects under your jurisdiction,” Faso wrote to Chao. He argued that doing so would cut construction costs and stretch funds for New York projects “further than previously realized.”

Faso has represented New York’s 19th District, which includes Ulster and Sullivan counties, since 2017. He lost on Nov. 6 to Democrat Antonio Delgado, a lawyer who lives in Rhinebeck.

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