Nassau County elected officials would be banned from distributing mass government mailers within 45 days of an election unless they are meant to inform residents about a public event or meeting, according to new Republican legislation.
A Nassau legislative committee voted unanimously for the bill last Monday, and the measure is scheduled for a vote on Sept. 27 in the full legislature, which the GOP controls.
The bill is modeled after legislative rules that already prohibit lawmakers from sending any mass mailings at county expense within 45 days of their elections.
The new legislation would extend the prohibition to the county executive, the county comptroller and the county clerk, while also covering county lawmakers.
"This bill will solidify that rule not only for the county legislature but for all county offices and departments, creating a similar rule seen on the state and federal levels," said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park).
Nicolello instituted the legislature's rules banning mailings when he became presiding officer in 2018, his spokesman Chris Boyle said.
Mailings from the county executive's office or legislative districts deal with a range of topics, from promotion of mammogram vans to newsletters in which lawmakers criticize members of the other party on issues including property reassessment.
Democrats and Republicans in county government and in Nassau's three towns have criticized one another over the years for putting their names on mass flyers distributed to residents at taxpayer expense, often during election season.
Earlier this year, taxpayers received a barrage of mailers about Democratic County Executive Laura Curran's countywide property reassessment.
GOP officials including Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino and Hempstead Town Tax Receiver Jeanine Driscoll attacked the reassessment's accuracy in townwide mass mailings sent at taxpayer expense.
Curran issued her own mailers, at county expense, in part blaming school districts for creating significant property tax hikes.
William Biamonte, chief of staff to legislative Democrats, asserted in a statement to Newsday that, "for years, Town and County Republicans have bombarded residents with mail pieces that are most accurately described as taxpayer-funded campaign ads, and they have routinely resisted our proposals to curb this wasteful practice."
Biamonte continued: "Until their actions begin to match their words, the Majority’s politically-motivated complaints will always ring hollow."
The three Democrats on the seven-member Rules Committee joined in the unanimous vote last Monday to approve the mailings ban without commenting.
The GOP bill applies to "substantially similar" mailings that reach more than 500 residents.
The bill allows mailers to be sent up to 30 days in advance of primaries or special elections.
If the bill passes, it would apply to the Nov. 2 election, in which:
- County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, is seeking reelection against Republican Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman.
- County Clerk Maureen O’Connell, a Republican, is running for reelection against Democrat Justin Brown.
- Democrat Ryan Cronin and Republican Elaine Phillips are running for county comptroller. Democratic Comptroller Jack Schnirman is not running for a second term.
- All 19 members of the Nassau County Legislature are up for election.
Mike Fricchione, a spokesman for Curran, said Curran has set an example for others by not placing her name on county signs.
"If anyone should be concerned about [this] bill, it’s the majority legislators who continue to shamelessly promote their names on the taxpayers’ dime," Fricchione said.
Boyle said in response: "It sounds like the County Executive is upset she won’t be able to send out any more misleading mailers about her botched assessment ahead of this year’s election."
Majority Republicans also last Monday introduced legislation to bar elected officials from putting their names, titles or likenesses on checks and envelopes mailed by the county to send funds to residents from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
The legislature is expected to vote Sept. 27 on Curran's proposal to use $100 million from the federal coronavirus relief law.
Under Curran's bill, Nassau would send payments of up to $375 to some 400,000 individual Nassau households.
The payments would go to households making up to $168,900. Households earning up to $500,000 would be eligible for payments if they can show proof of financial losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.