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Long IslandPolitics

Suffolk sober home bill sparks controversy

Kate Browning poses for a portrait on May

Kate Browning poses for a portrait on May 20, 2015. Photo Credit: James Escher

A Suffolk legislative committee unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday ordering social services officials to stop passing along state payments to sober home operators who are registered sex offenders, despite warnings that the measure violated the New York constitution and state law.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), sponsored the measure after receiving complaints that a Mastic sober home for women was being operated by a registered level three — the most dangerous — sex offender. The vote in the Education and Human Services Committee sent the resolution to the full legislature for a vote Tuesday.

Browning said she “understands the legal concerns,” but “we have to send a strong message to the state and legislators that is not OK for registered sex offenders to rent any home to women and children.”

Suffolk’s Department of Social Services makes payments to sober home operators for the state Office of Temporary Disability Assistance. Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill and assistant Suffolk County Attorney Valerie Smith cautioned that the only way the county under state law can stop payments is if buildings have serious health and safety violations such as lack of heat or no running water.

Browning’s resolution is “inconsistent with the state constitution and the social services law,” said Smith. Having a sex offender as an owner landlord or operator “is not a valid cause to withhold payment,” Smith said, noting that such a law could subject Suffolk to a state lawsuit.

Legislative Counsel George Nolan said it is likely the state will direct social services officials to ignore the county legislation and order them to make the payments.

According to the website of Parents for Megan’s Law, which monitors sex offenders for the county, the landlord Adrian Thomas, 53, is listed as a level-three three convicted sex offender who was convicted in 2016 and sentenced to a year in jail for misdemeanor sexual misconduct. Thomas’ attorney did not return calls for comment.

Committee members who backed the resolution included presiding officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) and his deputy Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). Gregory said allowing sex offenders who rent to women and children to receive state funding is, “an inherent conflict that does make sense.”

Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said the funding creates an unsafe situation, even without building violations.

“If the Supreme Court says that a corporation can be a person, we can consider a landlord a building. I’ll just look at it that way,” she said. Hahn was referring to the 2010 Citizens United decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled corporations like people had free speech rights and could independently spend unlimited funds for or against political candidates.

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