Suffolk bills often co-sponsored after they pass

Lawmakers are sworn in to the Suffolk Legislature.

Lawmakers are sworn in to the Suffolk Legislature. (2012) (Credit: Ed Betz)

History will show that 10 Suffolk County legislators introduced the popular measures to give veterans a discount on bus fares and golf fees.

The formal record lists all 18 lawmakers as putting forth another resolution that allows authorities to seize the vehicles of convicted hit-and-run drivers.

But many of them had nothing to do with crafting or even shepherding the bills through. Getting a piece of the credit, rather, required no more than shouting one word in the moments after the votes.


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"Co-sponsor!"

Other legislative bodies, including the State Senate and Assembly, detail on their final bills which members introduced them, and which were only co-sponsors. In Suffolk, co-sponsors -- even those who may have opposed a particular measure during debate -- can sign on after passage, with the bills filed for posterity merely saying "introduced by," followed by the list of all backers.

The practice, while not new, is increasingly drawing wry comments from the same lawmakers who continue to sheepishly take advantage of it.

When he couldn't keep up with all the lawmakers who requested cosponsorship of last month's bill to reduce county golf course fees for veterans, Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) asked, to laughter, "So, co-sponsors all around?"

"It's politics," Horsley said later. "It's just an expression of support, and if someone wants to look up one of our records, they'll see we were supportive of the issue."

Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who joined after the fact as a co-sponsor of the golf bill -- noting, "I've got a course in my district" -- admitted the act "can be misleading."

"There's true co-sponsors and the ones who ask to be listed at the end. Unfortunately, as far as history is concerned, it looks like they all were part of drafting the bill," Spencer said.

At a November meeting, legislators flocked to co-sponsor a bill to honor Vietnam veterans. "Anyone NOT want to be a co-sponsor?" Horsley asked. "Might be easier that way."

Legislative records show that late co-sponsors generally sign onto measures that pass only by wide margins, and avoid those that were contentious or narrowly passed. Experienced observers know that true sponsors are always listed first.

In the moments after a popular bill passes, Legislative Clerk Tim Laube looks for the head nods and raised pens of lawmakers requesting cosponsorships. Some email him rather than let out the kind of deep-pitched bellow popularized by former Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches).

"He was the loudest," Laube said, imitating the kind of call that used to rise above all of the other voices: "Co-sponsor!"

Romaine, now Brookhaven Town supervisor, said he limited late cosponsorships to items relating to his district. He said the practice bothered him only when legislators "tried to defeat things, and when it was obvious it couldn't be tabled or defeated, yell 'co-sponsor!' "

Laube noted the likelihood of such credit grabs making their way into campaign fliers.

"Why you couldn't just say, 'I supported the bill, I voted for it,' I don't know," Laube said.

Nassau's legislature, which is tightly controlled by majority Republicans, typically lists all 10 GOP members on their bills beforehand, records show. The nine Democrats, who vote as a bloc against Republicans on policy measures, typically are listed only on noncontroversial bills that they support.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, said Suffolk's practice probably mattered little in the practical sense. "You're only getting away with something to the most uninitiated," he said.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) has jumped onto a few bills as a late supporter, but said he wouldn't mind a new rule that required co-sponsors be added only before legislative meeting agendas. Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), whose golf course bill benefited from nine late co-sponsors, says it probably wouldn't matter much anyway.

"If they ended the practice, I don't think it changes anything," he said. "It would just make people do it earlier."

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