Suffolk County Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), and former Democratic Legis. Kate...

Suffolk County Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), and former Democratic Legis. Kate Browning. Credit: James Escher

Suffolk lawmakers next week will hold hearings on a new proposal to bar county elected officials from serving a total of more than 12 years in the same office — an effort to prevent them from running again after a break in service.

The legislation, filed by freshman Legis. Stephanie Bontempi with the support of the Republican majority would put a voter referendum on the November ballot.

Current county law limits elected county officials to 12 consecutive years in office.

"Laws are often confusing and we want to make sure that the language is clear," said Bontempi (R-Huntington). "It goes back to transparency in government and being clear to make sure everyone understands what we are saying,"

Bontempi's proposed amendment to the term-limit law follows a dispute between Republicans and Democrats last year when Democrat Kate Browning, then code enforcement director for Babylon Town, sought to run again for county legislature in the 3rd District.

Browning had represented the district until 2017, when she was term-limited after 12 years in office.

Two Republican district voters, backed by the county GOP, sued to get Browning off the ballot, saying she could not run because she already had reached the 12-year term limit.

Democrats argued that Browning could run again after a break in service because the county term-limit law, approved in 1993, only bars legislators from serving more than 12 "consecutive" years. 

A lower court ordered Browning's name off the ballot.

An appellate court panel reversed the decision, ruling the county law does not impose a lifetime term limit.

Browning was defeated by Republican James Mazzarella.

Under Bontempi's proposal, officials who reach the 12-year limit could run for other offices — county executive, county legislator and county comptroller.

One exception: If an elected official took office through a special election to fill a vacancy, the unexpired term of the preceding official would not be counted toward the 12-year limit. 

The offices of district attorney, county sheriff and county clerk are exempt from county term limits.

A public hearing on Bontempi's proposal is scheduled for Tuesday. The 18-member county legislature is expected to vote on the measure June 7.

"There are no political motivations behind this bill," Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said. "This is responsible and honest government."

Browning said Bontempi's proposal, "is nothing but politics and it will prohibit the voter from being able to decide who they want to represent them."

If approved, the bill will go to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone for signing. 

Bellone said Thursday: "We will review the bill once it has made its way through the legislative process, but I have been a strong supporter of term limits for many years." 

There are no term limits in Nassau for countywide offices. Officials in the Nassau County executive's office and the legislature said Thursday no such legislation was under consideration.

Other New York counties, such as Westchester, limit the terms of elected officials.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of Suffolk County legislators. There are 18.


 

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