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Suffolk Legislature OKs school bus safety plan, rejects 'ban the box' law

The Suffolk County Legislature holds full meetings in

The Suffolk County Legislature holds full meetings in Riverhead on Tuesday. Credit: Veronique Louis

The Suffolk County Legislature voted on a wide range of measures Tuesday, including creating an enforcement program to prevent drivers from speeding past stopped school buses and rejecting "ban the box" legislation that would have helped formerly incarcerated people find jobs.

Legislators unanimously approved a school bus camera program that will fine drivers who fail to halt for stopped school buses with children. 

“The ultimate goal of this legislation is about the safety of our children,” bill sponsor Legis. Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley) said.

Local school officials and students called on the Legislature to approve the safety program, citing how frequently cars illegally pass stopped buses while children are getting on and off them.  

In the Longwood school district, buses are illegally passed about 86 times a day and, in the last 33 days, there were an estimated 3,100 illegal passes, district transportation coordinator John Ryan said. In the Bay Shore school district, school buses are illegally passed about 95 times a day, district transportation official Richard Gallagher said.

A car even “whizzed by” a stopped school bus last week while students were leaving a legislative committee meeting in Hauppauge, where they spoke in favor of the bill and cited their own scares with speeding school buses, Longwood school board member Daniel Tomaszewski said Tuesday. 

School districts can opt into the program, which allows for camera installation on bus stop-sign arms. Fines for drivers range from $250 to $300 depending on the number of offenses within 18 months.

The program is expected to generate $2.5 million in revenue in its first year, according to budget documents.

Also Tuesday, legislators voted 9-8 against a measure, known as “ban the box,” that would have removed a common box on job applications that asks about criminal records. The legislation would have prohibited employers from asking about applicants’ criminal histories until after a first interview and would have required employers to inform rejected applicants with conviction records why they did not get the job.

Legis. Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) said that while she supported banning the box generally, she did not support requiring businesses to disclose their reason for rejecting a job applicant.

“I don’t think people who have committed a crime should get more benefits than someone who just didn’t get the job,” Berland told legislators at a meeting in Riverhead, noting that people without criminal records do not learn why they are passed over for positions.

More than 150 municipalities and 33 states have “ban the box” laws. Supporters in Suffolk said it would give applicants an opportunity to interview for jobs and explain their crimes, boosting their chances of getting hired and reducing the likelihood of reoffending.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), who sponsored the legislation, said he would perhaps try to get a bill passed next year but noted that the discussion “elevated the conversation” on obstacles people faced after incarceration.

Legislators on Tuesday also voted to:

  • Make Suffolk County a “Purple Heart County” to honor veterans who have been awarded the medal after being wounded or killed in combat. Suffolk is home to the largest population of veterans in the state.
  • Borrow $2.8 million for a settlement with the family of Jack Franqui, who died in police custody in 2013 after officers failed to follow protocol for preventing suicides.
  • Issue new tax levies for the 2020 budget to allow town tax receivers to calculate budgets and tax bills after Bellone vetoed parts of the legislature’s budget.

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