The Democrat-controlled Suffolk County Legislature is set to vote Tuesday on a redistricting proposal that would set new legislative district lines for the next decade, amid a court battle and allegations the plan violates the county charter.
The Democratic proposal would double the number of districts in which Blacks and Hispanics comprise the majority, and squeeze four incumbent Republican legislators into two districts.
It also would evenly split districts into nine largely Republican and nine largely Democratic ones, reflecting population growth in areas such as the East End, Brentwood and Huntington Station.
Republicans say the plan, proposed by Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), amounts to a last-ditch power grab by Democrats before they lose legislative control next month.
Calarco called the redistricting plan fair and equitable.
The Republican caucus, including Conservative Nicholas Caracappa, of Selden, will have an 11-8 majority in January after picking up three Democratic seats in the Nov. 2 election.
Under the county charter, a bipartisan commission is supposed to propose new district lines and hold four public hearings.
Calarco said his office drew the map after outgoing Majority Leader Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) and Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) failed to nominate members to the bipartisan commission by a Nov. 10 deadline.
A four-page legal opinion by Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Cohen, obtained by Newsday Monday, found the proposal violates the county charter.
The opinion cites a charter section that gives the commission until Feb. 1, 2022 to propose new maps.
"Here, the statutory text is clear that the Legislature does not have the authority to impose revisions to the boundaries of the legislative districts until February 1st," according to the Dec. 11 opinion.
Calarco said Monday night that Cohen's opinion "ignores" that the charter sets a firm deadline of 90 days from the release of U.S. Census data for legislative leaders to appoint commission members.
McCaffrey said he expects the measure to pass in a party-line vote Tuesday, with Democrats approving it 10-8.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, has not said whether he would sign the legislation if it passes.
Lawmakers also are awaiting a court ruling on a Republican petition to block the Democratic redistricting measure.
On Dec. 7, a state Supreme Court justice barred the legislature from acting on the proposal until a court hearing.
Within hours, an Appellate Division associate justice overturned the ruling.
Last Thursday, Democrats filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying the court lacks the authority to bar the legislature from voting on the redistricting plan.
In court papers, Democrats said such an action would constitute an "unprecedented and drastic step" that would violate the separation of powers doctrine.
Calarco said the parties will return to court on Jan. 6.
The redistricting proposal will come to the full legislature Tuesday through a rarely used process.
Democrats on Monday bypassed the traditional process in which legislation gets a floor vote after approval by a legislative committee.
All 10 Democratic county legislators signed a "discharge petition" that avoided a committee vote, Calarco and McCaffrey said.
Calarco said Democratic legislators were concerned so many of their colleagues would be absent Monday for the committee to take a vote.
McCaffrey said of the Democrats' tactic: "They're just continuing to stifle debate [and] public participation in this whole process. They keep finding new ways to do it."
Calarco said the public still will be able to speak Tuesday before the legislature's vote.