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OpinionColumnistsRandi F. Marshall

Here are the issues Long Island's state senators are fighting for in Albany

The State Senate Chamber at the Capitol in

The State Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany on June 20, 2019. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

As state lawmakers head back to Albany, every member has a bill or two he or she hopes will make it into the mix. There are some larger issues on the table, like extending absentee voting rules into the general election, and amending the state constitution on how legislative districts will be drawn in 2022, but locally, state senators are pushing their own agendas forward.

In some instances, Long Island’s state senators — six Democrats and two Republicans since one seat was left empty after John Flanagan’s resignation — are focused on new issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and housing discrimination. In others, their attention is on items that have been on their agendas for a long time. 

Democrats, who are in the majority, have a better shot at their bills becoming law.

Sen. Jim Gaughran’s top-of-mind subject is housing discrimination. His bill, which emerged after Newsday’s Long Island Divided series, would force real estate brokers and agents who are found to have violated state human rights law to lose their licenses.

“I think it’s the ultimate hammer and deterrent,” Gaughran told The Point. 

Gaughran said he’s received positive feedback from real estate brokers, and he hopes it’ll be a way for New York to send a message different than the one coming out of Washington, D.C., recently.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, meanwhile, is focused on illegal dumping, and he hopes that new penalties and crimes will be added to the state’s penal code. (As The Point reported last week, the Assembly is pushing for the issue to be addressed in environmental code instead.) Kaminsky also is proposing to allow college students to work at poll sites at locations where they aren’t registered to vote. Beyond that, Kaminsky said he is focused on a ban on the industrial use of a chemical called trichloroethylene, known as TCE, which is found in the Grumman plume, and an effort to give Nassau and Suffolk counties co-jurisdiction over sand-mining permits.

Kaminsky also is pushing to pass a bill that would require the teaching of the history of the swastika and the noose sometime between sixth and 12th grades.

Sen. John Brooks is focused on volunteer fire departments, which, he said, found themselves dealing with massive costs associated with personal protective equipment and other needs as the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Brooks’ proposal would allow volunteer fire departments to recover medical and other costs associated with the calls they answer by billing insurance companies for those expenses. That way, Brooks said, the extra costs wouldn’t be passed on to the taxpayer. He noted that volunteer ambulance companies already have the ability – so this is just adding fire departments to the mix. 

Sen. Kevin Thomas is pushing three bills all with the same theme: consumer protection.

Thomas is sponsoring the Consumer Credit Fairness Act, which establishes a statute of limitations on debt-related lawsuits and key details that must be provided to consumers. Thomas also has a bill in the mix that would establish truth-in-lending provisions for small business loans, providing key disclosures for small businesses that are in place for consumer loans but not for business lending, Thomas said. Thomas is concerned, too, about the use of data related to the tracking and tracing efforts arising from trying to contain the coronavirus, and he wants state law to mandate that such data must be kept anonymous, and not used for commercial purposes.

“Companies are foaming at the mouth with how much money they’re going to be making … off of tracking people,” Thomas said.

Sen. Anna Kaplan’s attention is on a bill she’s been trying to get through for a while — the Scott J. Beigel Unfinished Receiver Act — which would criminalize the sale of a part of a gun that’s often unregulated and, when sold separately, can be converted or built into an assault weapon. The bill is named for a teacher who grew up on Long Island and was killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018. Separately, Kaplan is hoping to push a bill that would make personal protective equipment exempt from sales tax.

Sen. Monica Martinez told The Point the bill she’s working on that’s most likely to move forward is one that would require mandatory reporting of animal cruelty, much like the law for reporting child abuse. Martinez also has significant priorities that she said might be more controversial, such as requiring fingerprinting and background checks for construction contractors working in school districts and making public the disciplinary proceedings of elected officials and state agency commissioners.

Republican Sen. Phil Boyle said he’s mostly dealing with “hyper-local” neighborhood-by-neighborhood issues, but the most significant thing he’d like to get done is for the legislature to “take back” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s emergency powers, provided in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Not that we’re anywhere near done, but I think the legislature ceded too much power to the governor and we’re dealing with the consequences every day,” Boyle told The Point. “With the progress we’ve made, it’s time for the legislature to reassert its authority and act as a coequal branch of government.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Ken LaValle, a Republican who is retiring this year, is going to continue to work on priorities that “have remained unchanged throughout his tenure,” said his chief of staff, Joann Scalia. They include making property taxes more affordable, keeping schools “safe and healthy,” ensuring access to affordable health care and protecting the environment, Scalia said. 

How much will get done? We’ll know this week as the session is expected to end Thursday. That won’t be the only opportunity to get things done, though. They’re expected to return in August — once they know what the federal government does, if anything, to help with the state’s budget woes.