County lifeguards would get hats, sunglasses, other sun protection under proposed Suffolk law

A lifeguard keeps watch over the beach at A lifeguard keeps watch over the beach at Ocean Bay Park on June 23, 2013. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

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A proposed Suffolk law would require lifeguards at county parks next summer to wear wide-brimmed hats, sit under large umbrellas or canopies when not making rescues, wear UV protectant sunglasses and cover up with shirts that protect the wearer with a minimum of SPF 50.

The bill is an attempt to shield county lifeguards from the effects of ultraviolet rays, said the bill's sponsor, Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).

But it's also sparking criticism from some of her colleagues about whether the Suffolk legislature has waded into "nanny state" territory by trying to legislate common sense.

"If our lifeguards don't have the wherewithal to put some sunscreen on, we shouldn't put them in charge of swimmers' lives," said Minority Leader John M. Kennedy (R-Nesconset). "Several of my colleagues seem to be falling over themselves to protect human beings from having basic life skills."

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) ticked off a list of bills passed and proposed that he said have gone too far.

Earlier this year, the legislature raised the age to buy tobacco in the county to 21. Another adopted bill will require healthy food options to be offered at county-run parks and in vending machines at county buildings. Another proposal requires gas stations to post credit card prices roadside if they're more than 5 percent higher than the cash prices.

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"The legislature has overstepped its bounds in terms of dictating to residents and employees what they can and cannot do," he said. Cilmi called the sun protection bill "another step in the march away from freedom and personal responsibility."

Hahn said she was first approached by a Long Island skin cancer prevention advocate in the spring about a bill to protect lifeguards from the sun.

"I think this is a case of protecting our employees," she said. "We're asking them to sit in the sun all day long. It's outlined as part of their job." She compared it to requiring county workers on road crews to wear helmets, or police officers on the street to wear bulletproof vests.

The county, which already gives employees sunscreen, would pay for the new equipment and to educate them on the dangers from sun exposure for about 112 lifeguards hired each year. Lifeguards would also be screened for abnormal skin conditions during preseason testing. There's no cost estimate to provide the equipment and services, according to the legislature's nonpartisan budget review office.

Because Hahn had an excused absence Wednesday, the Parks and Recreation Committee tabled the bill until Oct 1.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), chairman of the committee, said he would "probably" support it, though he thought it could be done with executive action.Schneiderman, sponsor of the gasoline pricing bill, said the county has a long history of passing aggressive legislation to protect consumers and the public. "I don't see it being worse than in the past," he said. "We've always micromanaged."

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