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Suffolk lawmakers back expansion of language services

The Suffolk County Legislature has passed a measure to expand language services for those not proficient in English, after Republicans tried to delay it, saying there was no solid estimate of the cost.

The proposal, sponsored by Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), was approved late Tuesday night on a party line 11-7 vote. The GOP had tried to table the measure to give budget analysts more time to determine how expensive the additional services will be.

The measure would expand an earlier executive order requiring departments overseen by the county executive to translate documents into a half-dozen languages. The new bill also would cover the county legislature and other departments run by countywide elected officials: The district attorney, sheriff, comptroller and county clerk.

The measure also requires all county agencies to develop language access plans within 60 days after Jan. 1.

The agencies will have to detail how interpretation services, including those for the hearing- and vision-impaired, will be provided; how document titles will translated and how training will be conducted and compliance monitored.

Robert Lipp, budget review director, estimated a five-year cost of $358,212 — $85,368 the first year and $68,211 annually afterward. But he cautioned the forecast did not include the cost of equipment for the deaf or sign language interpretation, dual handset phones or video interpretation capacity.

Legis. Steven Flotteron (R-Brightwaters) said the measure could impose large costs on the legislature alone because resolutions and backup data can run to more than 700 pages per meeting.

“Translating it into a six languages at 19 cents a word could cost $400,000 per meeting,” Flotteron said.

But Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said most departments already comply with the executive order without “any exorbitant extra costs.”

Martinez, said “it boggles my mind” that Republicans would oppose her measure: “This is just common sense, and good government,” to help people interact with the county agencies, she said.

Also Tuesday, lawmakers voted unanimously to preserve Suffolk’s ban on the sale of sparklers, based on recommendations of local and state fire officials who say the products burn at more than 1,200 degrees.

Under state law, sparklers are legal unless counties choose to opt out.

Legislators also changed the county’s social host law that makes parents responsible if they are aware of underage drinking at their homes to also cover illegal drug use.

Meanwhile, the seven-member GOP caucus flexed its muscle by blocking two capital projects — $100,000 for replacing public works equipment and $60,000 for a parking lot and walking path at the historic Old Field horse farm. GOP lawmakers said such small costs should be paid from operating funds.

The legislature also sustained County Executive Steve Bellone’s veto of a measure that would have added a second legislator to a county committee that permits waivers to the contract bidding process. Currently, the panel has one legislator and two members appointed by the county executive.

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