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New law requires smoke detectors have nonremovable batteries, life of 10 years

ALBANY – Smoke detectors must contain nonremovable batteries with a working life of at least 10 years, under a new law Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Monday night.

The legislation affects smoke detectors sold beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

The law is intended to keep detectors operating by making it impossible for consumers to disable the device if it goes off while cooking or to borrow the batteries for a kid’s toy or some other use.

The new types of detectors also are meant to address the problem of homeowners’ forgetting to keep fresh batteries in the devices, according to Robert Leonard, public relations chairman of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. Nationally, about two-thirds of fire fatalities occur in places with no smoke detector or no working smoke detector, said Leonard, a Long Island volunteer firefighter.

“The goal of this legislation is to require all stores in New York to only carry the 10-year, sealed battery smoke alarm,” said Leonard, whose group represents 94,000 volunteer firefighters in the state.

Several of the 10-year models are already available on the marketplace, at a cost of about $25. The up-front costs will be higher for consumers, but backers of the bill say they it will save the costs of battery replacement in the long run.

In listening to industry concerns, Cuomo got lawmakers to go along with a change that keeps the law’s effective date at Jan. 1, 2017, but creates an additional two-year window after that before full compliance with the sales mandate must be met.

In his approval message, Cuomo said there are “technical” issues that could make the law difficult to implement. He did not identify those issues, but said the sponsors of the bill have agreed to work on amendments in the coming legislative session.

The state first passed fire detector legislation in 1961. The new effort was pushed through this year by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, a Rochester-area Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican.

Eleven other states, as well as numerous cities, have variations of a long-life smoke detector mandate.

In another of his final bill signings for the year, Cuomo on Monday night also approved legislation to bolster the state’s whistleblower law. Present law requires a public employee who suspects wrongdoing in the workplace to report the activity to a supervisor.

But, according to the legislation, “this requirement fails to address cases where the employee’s superior or another senior administrator may be involved in unethical activity, making reporting ill-advised.”

The new law allows whistleblowers to take concerns about unethical activities directly to outside agencies – whether a state ethics panel or prosecutor – without first reporting the problem to senior executives at their own agencies.