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State Legislature OKs bill on real estate discrimination after Newsday investigation, also bans TCE

New York state Assembly members work on a

New York state Assembly members work on a Bill to extend labor rights to farmworkers during session in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Albany, N.Y.  Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The State Legislature gave final passage Thursday to a series of bills that touch key Long Island issues, including banning a chemical found in groundwater and toughening penalties for real estate discrimination, a move sparked by a Newsday series.

The Senate and Assembly this week also approved a bill to make the illegal dumping of construction debris a felony, as well as making it a felony to participate in an illegal dumping scheme. And the houses approved a measure that gives the commission that oversees utilities more power to force the Long Island Power Authority to implement measures to combat waste and fraud.

The pollution, dumping and real estate bills touched on high-profile issues on the Island.

The real estate bill would give the state the power to suspend or revoke an agent’s license for violation of New York’s Human Rights Law, which outlaws discriminatory practices. The Assembly passed it by a 141-0 vote late Thursday. The Senate had approved it earlier in the week.

The bill was sparked by “Long Island Divided,” a Newsday report finding evidence of widespread unequal treatment of minority communities and minority potential homebuyers. Covering three years and using undercover videos, the report found evidence that potential buyers were steered to neighborhoods based on race and that some agents required mortgage preapprovals from Black customers but not white.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) cited Newsday’s findings in a statement issued prior to the Assembly voting on the bill, which was expected to occur late Thursday.

"No one seeking to buy a home should be subject to differential treatment by their real estate broker on the basis of the color of their skin, ethnicity or any other personal trait. This legislation reflects our commitment to protecting the rights of every New Yorker,” Heastie said.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) led the push on both the TCE and dumping bills.

The pollution bill would outlaw most uses of trichloroethylene, or TCE, in New York. TCE is a chemical degreaser or solvent that was used for decades on U.S. Navy aircraft and is a major contributor to the Grumman Plume groundwater contamination. The bill calls for banning the use of TCE in “manufacturing or industrial cleaning process or use.”

It would not ban TCE as a stain remover in dry cleaning.

The Assembly approved the bill, 115-26, late Thursday; the Senate had approved it earlier in the week.

“TCE is a widespread and dangerous contaminant,” Englebright said when lawmakers announced a deal on the legislation earlier this week. “It is easily penetrating our water supply wherever it’s used.”

The Legislature also approved an anti-dumping measure sparked by the 2014 discovery of 40,000 tons of contaminated material at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood and a separate investigation that led to the 2018 indictment of more than 30 individuals and nine companies or disposing contaminated waste at 24 sites on Long Island.

A Newsday investigation showed a connection between NYC's building boom and illegal dumping on Long Island.

A special grand jury, convened in 2018 to look at the issue, concluded existing state laws weren’t sufficient to deal with the dumping of hazardous materials.

Under the bill, “scheming to defraud” to illegally dispose of “solid waste” would be a felony carrying up to a 4-year prison sentence. Other provisions specifically make illegal the dumping of construction debris, hazardous substances and “acutely hazardous” materials, with penalties varying according to the amount found.

The measure received unanimous bipartisan support (139-0) in the Assembly Thursday when it was given final approval.

“This is a bill that will make a lot of sense to people in my district,” Assemb. Christopher Tague (R-Schoharie), who represents a rural district west of Albany, said. “There are a lot of bad actors and this will help clean this up.”

Thursday's actions wrapped up a week in which legislators approved a wide range of bills. Addressing the pandemic, they passed measures to give voters, local election boards and post offices more time to process what is expected to be an overwhelming number of absentee ballots in November.

They also put a moratorium (until July 2022) on schools’ ability to install facial recognition technology in school buildings, made “Juneteenth” an official state holiday and prohibited federal immigration agents from making arrests in New York courthouses.

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