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Show of bipartisanship in Nassau Legislature

The Nassau County Legislature began its new session Monday with an uncommon show of bipartisanship, agreeing to put off several rule changes that had split Republican and Democratic leaders.

On the same day that four new lawmakers were sworn in, Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) announced plans to meet over the next month to discuss the proposed changes to legislative procedures.

Republicans -- who currently hold an 11-7 edge in the legislature, with one vacancy -- had proposed changes including reducing the time proposed resolutions must be on file before being considered, from 17 to 14 days.

Such a change would effectively mean that most measures could be introduced for the first time on the same day legislative committees meet.

"What it does, really, is take away the teeth of the committee process," Abrahams said.

Gonsalves, who was reappointed as Presiding Officer Monday, said she is open to discussing the changes further, adding that she and Abrahams will try to come to a consensus within 30 days. "It was too rushed," she said of the rules adoption process, "and they [Democrats] agreed it was too rushed."

Striking a more bipartisan tone is something Gonsalves said she will strive for over her new two-year term. "There's always room for debate, but there's also always room for compromise," she said.

Democrats, meanwhile, said their top goal is to push for further legislative hearings on significant issues, primarily the controversy that led to the ouster of Police Commissioner Thomas Dale.

Gonsalves said that she only supports hearings in which the topics can be discussed freely -- and that in the Dale case, potential civil lawsuits and ongoing criminal probes make that unlikely.

"If you present a problem, you want to be able to have a solution," Gonsalves said.

Also Monday, the legislature officially welcomed four new members: Republicans Donald MacKenzie, an Oyster Bay attorney, and Laura Schaefer, a Westbury attorney; and Democrats Laura Curran, a former newspaper reporter from Baldwin, and Ellen Birnbaum, of Great Neck, who had been a government aide for the Town of North Hempstead.

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