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Nassau Democrats: Republicans stealing our bills

Nassau County legislator Kevan Abrahams during a legislature

Nassau County legislator Kevan Abrahams during a legislature meeting on Nov. 13, 2018, in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Democrats on the Nassau County Legislature are crying foul over proposed bills they say majority Republicans stole from them and refiled as their own without proper committee hearings.

Democrats cite 13 legislative measures they say Republicans appropriated — including five approved by the county Legislature Monday

Republicans will add its members as co-sponsors to the Democrats' proposed bills or sometimes eliminate the Democratic co-sponsors altogether, Democrats said.  

“It’s disturbing. It’s disappointing,” said Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview).

Drucker said, “it’s not the fact that they white-out my name and put theirs on," legislation he has filed. "But I object to the fact that we can’t have a healthy exchange of ideas." 

The proposals in question address issues such as:

  • Prohibiting Nassau pet owners from tethering an animal outdoors when temperatures fall below 35 degrees.
  • Prohibiting harassment of a police officer, peace officer or first responder while they are performing their duties.
  • Banning tobacco product ads within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and day care centers.
  • Requiring the 4,000 restaurants in the county to post signs and train staff about food allergies.
  • Providing reasonable accommodation for the hearing-impaired. 

But legislative Presiding Officer Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the GOP majority "has worked collaboratively" with Democrats. 

Nicolello, who controls the legislative calendar, said it is customary to add any legislator who asks to the list of sponsors on a bill.

"You have to wonder at the motivation of a public official who throws a tantrum because other legislators are included on bills agreed upon by both sides," Nicolello said. 

Democrats say what angers them most are minor changes in the bills after the Republican majority has "poached" them. In some instances the legal language in bills was "watered down" without public debate or a concensus among the legislative attorneys for both sides, Democratic aides said.  

Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), first elected to the Nassau legislature in 2002, said the contention between Democrats and Republicans over the proposed measures predates further Nicolello's appointment as presiding officer in 2018.

Abrahams recalled legislators arguing over items that do not get on the legislative calendar dating to when the late Legis. Peter Schmitt, of Massapequa, led the Republicans and controlled the legislative calendar. 

"It's never been about the credit; it's about not having legislative hearings for these proposals," Abrahams said.

"The majority on the legislature isn't doing its job — and in many cases this is legislation that protects the residents who elected us," he said. "It's undemocratic." 

Drucker pointed to his bill on dog-tethering which he said Republicans changed to make the county law difficult to enforce over similar laws enacted in the towns. 

Drucker argued, “Controlling the calendar doesn’t mean you abandon democratic principles.” 

Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Cairo said: "When Republicans amend Democrat bills and force them to pay for the cost of their unfunded mandates on businesses and homeowners, it's called protecting taxpayers, not poaching. 

But Jay Jacobs, chairman of the Nassau Democratic Committee, called the practice “typical election-time shenanigans by the Republicans” who want to adopt their bills to gain favor with voters. 

“If Republicans would have spent more time when Ed Mangano was in office fixing the problems that they, along with Mangano, created they would not have to resort to these kinds of deceptions in order to fool the voters into believing that they stand for good government,” Jacobs said of the former GOP Nassau County executive.

Mangano, who served as Nassau County Executive for seven years, in March was found guilty of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, federal program bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

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