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Nassau lawmaker wants criminal background checks for some hotel workers

Nassau County Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams and Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder say the proposed legislation aims to protect residents and tourists from potential crimes.

Nassau County Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, proposed legislation that would require hotels and motels to conduct criminal background checks for certain employees.  (Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang)

Nassau County Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams proposed legislation Thursday that would require hotels and motels to conduct criminal background checks for certain employees. 

Abrahams (D-Freeport) and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the legislation would protect residents and tourists from potential thefts and possible sexual assaults. 

The bill would apply to employees who have access to guest rooms, Abrahams said. 

“When you go to a hotel or motel, that’s an extension of your home,” he said at a news conference in Mineola. 

The proposal is a first for New York, he said, although similar legislation has been introduced in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida.

Legis. Debra Mulé (D-Freeport), a member of the legislature's public safety committee, called the legislation “common sense.”

"It didn't even occur to me that this wasn't already being done," she said.

Officials said there had been instances of thefts — which Ryder said were often mistaken for lost items — but no reported incidents of sexual assault in local hotels and motels. 

“Our job is to prevent crimes, not wait until they occur,” Ryder said. “It’s going to be a great help in law enforcement to protect our victims.”

Employees who have criminal records would not be barred from employment, Abrahams said, but would be restricted from positions with access to guest rooms. The proposed required background checks would not include an individual's immigration status or detainer.

"It's important to increase safety and security whenever and wherever possible," said Cynthia Scott, executive director of The Safe Center LI, Inc., a Bethpage-based nonprofit.

The background checks are already being done at some of the county’s roughly 100 hotels and motels, such as the Garden City Hotel, officials said.

"We have always conducted criminal background checks for every hire, regardless of the position," J. Grady Colin, general manager of the Garden City Hotel, said in a statement. "We do so for the security and safety of our guests and our team members and will not compromise on this standard."

If passed, the law would be enforced through spot-checks by the county's Department of Consumer Affairs, officials said. Establishments could be subject to a fine up to $500 for a first violation and up to $1,000 for additional violations.

The bill currently does not cover short-term rentals such as Airbnb, officials said.

A spokesman for the legislature's majority caucus said the proposal was under consideration.

A spokeswoman for County Executive Laura Curran declined to comment.

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