Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Republican Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey on Monday announced a compromise agreement on legislative redistricting, days before a Democratic plan to create new district lines for the next decade is set to take effect.
Under the deal between Bellone, a Democrat, and McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the legislature’s new leader, officials would convene a bipartisan commission to propose maps for 18 new districts.
The commission would have until Aug. 1 to propose maps and hold 12 public hearings, with at least one in each town in the county.
The deal would undo the redistricting plan forced through by Democrats on Dec. 31, just hours before they lost legislative control.
That plan, the subject of a court battle, would take effect Jan. 31 if Bellone does not veto it.
Bellone did not commit Monday to vetoing the Democratic redistricting plan, although McCaffrey said Bellone would have to veto the measure in order for the new agreement to work.
The County Legislature is expected to vote on the agreement Wednesday at a special meeting.
Bellone spokeswoman Marykate Guilfoyle said "any actions," by Bellone "will depend on the results of Wednesday's meeting."
A key feature of the Democratic plan would stay intact: the new map must have at least four districts in which Black, Latino and Asian residents compromise the majority, officials said.
Advocates had lauded the Democratic plan for doubling the number of majority-minority districts from two to four. Minorities make up more than a third of the county population, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
"Given the importance of ensuring fair representation for communities of color and looming legal challenges to the proposed map in (the Democratic bill), we cannot leave to chance anything short of ensured equitable representation, reflective of the County’s diversity, in our legislative district map," Bellone said in a statement.
The Republican caucus controls the legislature with an 11-7 majority, but at least one Democrat would have to vote Wednesday for the agreement, which requires 12 votes for passage.
McCaffrey, a plaintiff in a Republican lawsuit against the Democratic plan, said he believes his colleagues are "going to see that this is the right thing to do."
Republicans also have filed legislation to rescind the Democratic redistricting measure.
"At the end of the day, everyone's going to say that this was the best way to do it, and everyone's going to do what they need to do to ensure that this is a fair, transparent and legal process with plenty of public input," McCaffrey said of the agreement with Bellone.
Minority Leader Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon) said he was not aware of the agreement’s details Monday night.
Richberg said he was "disappointed" that Democratic legislators and community members were not involved in the agreement, particularly while the court fight continues.
"We have maps that are fair for everyone, that bring more voices to the table," Richberg said of the Democratic redistricting plan.
The Democratic redistricting plan was proposed by former Presiding Officer Robert Calarco in early December, about a month after he lost reelection.
Calarco, a Patchogue Democrat, said his office had to draw the map after legislative party leaders missed a Nov. 10 deadline to appoint commission members.
Calarco has said his map created 18 fair and equitable districts, with an even split between districts that lean Republican and Democratic.
But the plan squeezes four Republican legislators into two districts in the 2023 election cycle, while not requiring any Democratic incumbents to run against each other.
Republicans said the Democratic plan amounted to a last-minute "power grab" that violated the county charter.
Under the charter, the bipartisan commission has the power to hold four public hearings and propose new district lines until Feb. 1.
If the deal between Bellone and McCaffrey were to fail, Republicans could draw district lines legally after Feb. 1, the charter's deadline for the bipartisan commission to propose maps.
Bellone’s county attorney, Dennis Cohen, agreed with Republicans that the measure would violate the charter, according to a legal memo obtained by Newsday last month.
A state Supreme Court justice blocked the legislature from taking action on the measure three times last year, but an appellate judge overruled that decision three times.
Republicans said they are appealing the most recent appellate ruling that allowed the vote to proceed.
Legislators held just one public hearing on the measure and approved it on party lines, 10-8, the day before Republicans took control of the legislature after picking up three seats in the November election.
The special meeting will be held Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in the legislature's Hauppauge auditorium, with remote options.