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Jun 11, 2008 8:36 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

County appeals ruling on hiring bill

Jun 11, 2008 8:36 AM

A majority of the Suffolk County Legislature this week voted in an executive session to appeal a judge’s ruling voiding a newly adopted law requiring all who apply for occupational licenses from Suffolk County demonstrate that their employees are legally entitled to work in the United States.

Legislator Edward Romaine of Center Moriches objected to having the decision on appealing the ruling conducted behind closed doors. He said it was unnecessary “to have an executive session on an item that has been publicly discussed.” And there were verbal fireworks when Legislator Rick Montano of Central Islip—who sued to get the law vacated—was prohibited from attending the executive session by William Lindsay, presiding officer of the legislature. Mr. Montano said if he was “excluded” because “I’m a plaintiff,” Mr. Lindsay should not be included because “he is a defendant.”

There was no public record of what happened at the closed-door meeting that came amid a regular Suffolk Legislature meeting Tuesday in Hauppauge other than an announcement that a majority voted for an appeal.

Reportedly Mr. Romaine, Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk and John M. Kennedy, Jr. of Nesconset voted against it.

Supreme Court Justice Ralph Costello last month found that the legislature broke its own rules in passing the measure. He agreed with Mr. Montano, who argued that the bill proposing the law was improperly moved from committee first considering it because it only was deemed passed after Mr. Lindsay cast a vote as an ex-officio member. That made the tally at the Consumer Protection Committee 3-to-1, with one abstention and one absence. But with Mr. Lindsay’s involvement before the committee swelling its total membership to seven, Mr. Montano argued that a majority vote of four was necessary for it to have passed.

The appeal will now take the matter to the Appellate Division of Supreme Court.

The measure, authored by Legislator Brian Beedenbender of Centereach, has been highly controversial, described by opponents as anti-immigrant and, specifically, anti-Latino. Mr. Montano is the first Hispanic man to be elected to the Suffolk County Legislature. He is a former federal civil rights prosecutor and executive director of the Suffolk Human Rights Commission.

Mr. Beedenbender has defended his bill, insisting that its aim is to “level the playing field” for businesses in Suffolk County by seeking to stop those who require county licenses—plumbers, electricians and home improvement contractors—from hiring undocumented immigrants.

In other business on Tuesday, the legislature passed two bills aimed at immigrants. One measure, authored by Legislator Jon Cooper of Lloyd Harbor, would require contractors doing business with the county to use the federal E-Verify system to show that their employees are legal residents of the U.S.

Cheryl Kessner of the Empire Justice Center, a statewide public advocacy group with an office in Central Islip, told the legislators that E-Verify is a “deeply flawed” program that has a “high error rate.” She said Suffolk County has “gained a reputation as the county of intolerance” sending out the message that “immigrants are not welcome here.” And she said the county can expect “additional legal challenges” if the measure is enacted.

Bill Condon, first vice president of the Suffolk Conservative Party, testified that “illegal immigration has reached epidemic proportions” and E-Verify “has been shown to be 99 percent effective” by the Department of Homeland Security and is “up and running in a third of the U.S.” He said “we don’t seek to discriminate” but only to gain “fairness” and that E-Verify is a “sound an effective way to control the many businesses that hire illegals.”

The measure passed 15 to 2.

The second bill, approved by the same margin, requires the county’s Probation Department to “confirm the legal status” of those entering the probation system. It was authored by Legislator Daniel Losquadro of Shoreham, who said he was shocked to hear John Desmond, the county’s probation director, tell the legislature’s Public Safety Committee that about 1,000 individuals on probation in Suffolk County have “questionable residential status.” These people were “convicted by our courts” and some went to jail, but after that, said Mr. Losquadro, if illegally in the U.S., they should be deported.

The measure authorizes the Probation Department to “take all steps necessary and practicable to determine the legal status of all persons entering the probation system” and “upon determination by Probation that a person entering the probation system is an illegal or undocumented alien, Probation shall so advise” Immigration and Custom Enforcement, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

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