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Hempstead Town eliminates public breastfeeding restriction

Supervisor Laura Gillen and Councilman Bruce Blakeman during

Supervisor Laura Gillen and Councilman Bruce Blakeman during a Town Board meeting in Hempstead on Feb. 20. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Hempstead Town Board members on Tuesday voted unanimously to repeal an antiquated town code that restricted public breastfeeding.

The repeal came about two months after Levittown resident Colleen Morgan expressed concerns to town officials about breastfeeding restrictions at town pools.

“We should allow mothers to breastfeed their infants wherever they see fit when they’re using town facilities,” Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said Tuesday.

The repeal “ensures a mother can feed her child while watching other children at the pool without any qualms,” Councilman Dennis Dunne said. Councilman Bruce Blakeman said the law was written "at a time when unfortunately attitudes were different.”

New York State law allows nursing women to breastfeed in any location, public or private, if they are authorized to be there. Town code previously limited breastfeeding to "designated areas.”

Morgan, 33, on Tuesday praised the repeal.

“It’s great they’re finally with the times and did the right thing,” she said.

Town officials were alerted to the discrepancy between state law and town code when Morgan contacted them about a list of pool rules she received. She read through them to see if floaties were allowed and came across a provision about breastfeeding. According to the list, breastfeeding  and diaper changing "shall be permitted in designated areas.”

Also on Tuesday, the board cast dissenting votes on proposed personnel changes in the town communications department. Four Republican councilmembers and senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat, voted against both the promotion of Mike Fricchione from press secretary to director of communications and hiring Stephen Smirti as press secretary. Gillen supported those moves . Councilman Edward Ambrosino voted against Fricchione’s promotion and recused himself on hiring Smirti.

Samantha Levine previously served as communications director. She said in an interview Tuesday that she had resigned, effective Monday, but declined to say why. 

Republican majority leader Erin King Sweeney said she had voted against those personnel moves because of Gillen’s recent public comments describing the town board as "corrupt."

"It's disgraceful and in no way am I going to reward bad behavior," King Sweeney said.

Gillen said in response: "Personal retribution shouldn't guide votes, good government should."

Fricchione’s promotion would not have increased his $125,000 salary.

The Republicans and Goosby also voted to table indefinitely a proposed change to town board procedures that would have required the town attorney’s office to review all resolutions in both form and content before they go before the board.

Gillen said she hoped the board would reconsider the measure later.

“This is a good government initiative … to make sure that anything we're voting on does not violate town code, state law or any other law,” she said.

King Sweeney said she voted to table the measure to ensure department commissioners have the most say over the resolutions they propose.

"Let's just say it's a conservation and waterways issue, I want to know that our commissioner's OK with that. I'm really less concerned with the lawyer being OK with it,” she said.

The town board also voted to hire an auditor to analyze the franchise fees it collects from Altice and Verizon “to ensure that all franchise fees due and owing to the Town have been paid,” according to the resolution.

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