Courts in New York state would be required to tell defendants of their right to a non-religious substance abuse treatment option under a measure given final passage in the state Senate this week. 

The bill, which has already cleared the state Assembly, heads next to Gov. Kathy Hochul's office for her signature. But the measure faces an uncertain future after Hochul last year vetoed a previous version of the bill. 

“Instead of making circumstances more onerous or problematic for New Yorkers who want to enter treatment programs for Substance Use Disorder, we need to focus on simple ways to accommodate them,” said state Sen. Peter Harckham. “This legislation allows courts to consider preferred program options without spiritual components when ordering individuals to treatment, which seems in line with our basic constitutional rights. The key here is to get people into treatment programs on a positive note at the onset.”

Lawmakers want treatment programs for people struggling with addiction to align with their own beliefs. The measure, supporters have said, is also an effort to avoid lawsuits against the state by defendants objecting to religious options.

“We know that substance use treatment is most effective when it meets the needs and aligns with the cultural beliefs of the individual,” said Assemblyman Harvey Epstein. “Despite courts repeatedly siding with plaintiffs in actions brought against state government employees who violate their constitutional rights, the violations continue to happen, wasting court resources and delaying individuals’ entry into substance use programs that match their needs and cultural beliefs.

Addiction has been an increasing concern for public health officials and advocates in the wake of the pandemic as there has also been a concurrent rise in overdose deaths across the country. 

Hochul's veto last December raised concerns with the burden of the disclosure requirements for judges.