A new law signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday requires elected county coroners across the state to complete medical-legal investigation courses prior to taking office. This makes New York the 17th state to require training for coroners, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while four other states require that coroners be physicians.

Specific requirements of the courses will be established by the Department of Health with input from the Commission on Forensic Science, the N.Y. State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the N.Y. Department of State and other professional groups, according to a summary of the bill, which was sponsored by Assemblyman John T. McDonald III (D-108th District).

“Deaths are difficult enough. Their cause and discovery need to be handled properly and state designated training is the right way to go,” McDonald said in a statement shortly after the bill passed in the state assembly on a 140-3 vote. The issue was brought to him by the New York State Association of County Coroners and Medical Examiners, McDonald said in an article for the Times Union.

“It has been a long time coming and has brought scrutiny along the way from many people concerned about mandated costs, the need for training (as many assumed Coroners had to have training), questions about who will provide training, and who/what entity will oversee the training classes,” said NYSACCME President Scott M. Schmidt in the organization’s newsletter prior to the bill’s passing, noting that the effort to require minimum training had been ongoing for over 15 years. “NYSACCME is prepared with numerous members to offer lectures, proctor, and assist in putting on a yearly Coroner 101 class.”

The new law requires coroners to pay for the courses themselves, with counties having the option to reimburse the officials. One “nay” voter, Andy Goodell (R-150th District), expressed concerns about the cost following his vote on the assembly floor.

“The problem I have with this bill is two-fold—first it imposes an unfunded expense on all the counties because there’s no funding to this,” Goodell said. “Second, it tries to make coroners something that they aren’t. A limited training course by the state will not make them a pathologist or an expert, and so if there are suspicious circumstances they should call in an expert.”

Coroners, unlike medical examiners, are not required to have any specific education or professional background except where specifically mandated by law—30 U.S. states have a coroner system for death investigations while 20 have a medical examiner system, according to the CDC. New York code states that, if a coroner is not licensed to practice medicine in the state, they must work with a coroner’s physician. However, McDonald stated on the assembly floor following his vote that coroners should still be required to have some training.

“We don’t expect them to be medical examiners by any stretch of the imagination, but I think the basic primal points of doing a medical investigation on a death is an important aspect,” McDonald said. “This isn’t a life or death situation—it’s a death situation, and we want to make sure it’s investigated properly.”