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Hempstead to defend law mandating stations provide free air

A compressed air machine at a BP gas

A compressed air machine at a BP gas station on Fulton Avenue in Hempstead Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. Credit: Barry Sloan

A Nassau Supreme Court judge issued an injunction blocking the Town of Hempstead from enforcing a controversial law mandating service stations to provide free air to motorists, as the case heads to court next week.

Judge Karen Murphy ruled that the town cannot proceed with its 2016 law that requires businesses to waive the normal 75 cents to $1 fee for motorists to fill their tires. The temporary injunction is in place until the case is heard on Feb. 7 in Nassau County Supreme Court.

The town board, led by former Supervisor Anthony Santino, passed the ruling in 2016, citing concern for drivers’ safety and underfilled tires on the town’s roadways.

A class-action lawsuit was filed by Manhattan attorney Erica Dubno on behalf of more than 200 businesses led by William McCabe and Floral Park-based Service Station Vending Equipment, who argued in court and to the town board that the new law would hurt their businesses.

The town’s law could jail service station owners for up to 15 days if an air machine isn’t functional and charge up to $10,000 per week in fines.

McCabe and other plaintiffs are not seeking any monetary damages from the town.

Town officials did not comment on the pending litigation.

In Murphy’s ruling on Jan. 2, she cited ambiguity in New York State law that allows service stations to charge customers for air.

“The court further finds that the submitted minutes of the March 29, 2016 Town Board meeting clearly and convincingly establishes the danger of irreparable economic injury, as recounted by the various gasoline station owners who spoke at the meeting and who also reemphasized that the machines are labeled to state that free air is available,” Murphy wrote.

Murphy previously issued a stay on the town’s ordinance one year ago, ruling that the town violated the state’s open meeting law, by requiring businesses also provide air 24 hours per day, even when businesses were closed.

The town amended the law last year to only require air during business hours, following the first court ruling.

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