Legislating is never just about writing bills. As much as anything, it's about building the consensus needed to get bills passed.
That's worth remembering at a time when consensus-building is a dying art in many legislative chambers, and at this time in particular when Kenneth LaValle has announced his retirement after a run in the New York State Legislature that has lasted 44 years.
LaValle, 80, a former teacher, is old-school in many ways, but perhaps in no way more important than his willingness to work with all sorts of people in and out of state government to get things done. And in that pursuit, he produced a raft of important legislation that leaves him with a legacy of both manner and substance.
LaValle, a Republican from Port Jefferson, collaborated with Democrats and others on bills that helped shape Long Island. He partnered with then-Democratic Assemb. Thomas DiNapoli on the landmark Pine Barrens Protection Act, which since its passage in 1993 has preserved more than 100,000 acres in Suffolk County and the precious aquifer beneath it. He worked with Democratic Assemb. Steve Englebright on other environmental bills, and over the last decade was part of Albany's most effective tandem with Assemb. Fred Thiele, a member of the Independence Party. LaValle and Thiele took a small-scale program on Nantucket Island and adapted it to create the East End's Community Preservation Fund, which has protected more than 10,000 acres on the East End. The mechanism — a 2% real estate transfer tax approved by voters in 1998 and used to preserve farmland and open space — has been copied widely. To get it passed, LaValle and Thiele needed to convince environmentalists, builders, real estate agents and local elected officials of its merits.
LaValle also was instrumental in the passage of the STAR property tax relief measure, championed and funneled major funding to Stony Brook University, and saw clearly the coming consolidation of health care systems, his motive in trying to get East End hospitals to band together and affiliate with Stony Brook Hospital. And he met any lawmaker's primary duty — serving constituents. As LaValle often said, "First District first."
His primary concerns mirrored theirs — tax relief and the environment. That was clear from the first bill he passed, in 1977, a measure that seems obvious now but was needed then. LaValle's legislation amended general municipal law to make it clear that Suffolk's new program to preserve farmland was legal, and that buying the development rights to properties in order to protect them was a legitimate public purpose.
We had our disagreements with LaValle, primarily on social issues, but he stayed true to his beliefs, steered clear of Albany's partisan fray, was a calming presence in his chamber and party, and served as a mentor to many colleagues, aides and local elected officials.
LaValle once described his legislating philosophy in an editorial board endorsement meeting: "You have to give in order to get."
Kenneth LaValle gave Long Island 44 good years, and gets our thanks for a job well done.
— The editorial board