HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. – Suffolk County lawmakers stood with community members and advocates to highlight new anti-discrimination laws going into effect this summer and to affirm their dedication to promoting diversity and inclusion.
At a press conference in Wyandanch on Aug. 20, Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco and Legislators Jason Richberg, Samuel Gonzalez and Susan A. Berland highlighted steps lawmakers have taken to shine a spotlight on diversity issues. The Suffolk County Legislature this year has pushed forward laws prohibiting discrimination based on visible characteristics such as hair texture and religious garments and discrimination based on criminal history. Lawmakers have also pursued initiatives to ensure fair housing and promote language access, as well as a measure to recognize Juneteenth. Additionally, Legislator Richberg has proposed a law to prevent false reporting of a crime based on bias.
“Diversity is one of Suffolk County’s strengths. Our residents come from many backgrounds, practice many religions and speak many languages, contributing to our county’s rich cultural experience,” said Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco. “As elected representatives, we are committed to fighting for fairness, and that includes dismantling systemic racism and making sure that Suffolk County government is working for everyone. Fair hiring practices coupled with fair housing initiatives will help ensure that every person has an equal opportunity to work and live in Suffolk County.”
“We are a county of 1.5 million people with diverse backgrounds,” added Legislator Richberg. “In order to communicate with each other effectively, we need to respect and accept our differences. Diversity and inclusion is part of the fabric of American society. As a country, we are not a monolith, we are a mosaic. We are not all tall, or able, or the same. We are all different, and those differences should be celebrated, not tolerated. I am extremely proud to be a part of addressing these issues on a county level.”
“I am so proud to stand with my fellow colleagues to highlight the changes being made here in Suffolk County to make the lives of all our residents better and more equitable,” said Legislator Gonzalez. “We cannot tolerate inequality in our own backyard of any kind. This is not a cure all, but rather just a few steps in the right direction. We will continue fighting for a better Suffolk County.”
Anti-Discrimination Laws Taking Effect and a Proposed Anti-Bias Law:
The Suffolk County Legislature has pushed forward two anti-discrimination laws in 2020 that are taking effect this summer. As of July 23, a new law prohibits discrimination based on certain physical attributes such as protective hairstyles, braids, hair textures, and religious garments. The law was sponsored by Legislator Richberg and co-sponsored by Presiding Officer Calarco and Legislators Berland, Gonzalez, Bridget Fleming, Rudy Sunderman, Kara Hahn and William Spencer.
Additionally, Suffolk County’s “ban the box” law took effect on August 25. The law was passed earlier this year in a bipartisan fashion to prohibit a criminal history checkbox from appearing on job applications in Suffolk County.
“The new law will provide those who have paid their debt to society the opportunity to be considered for employment based on their professional experience and skills rather than their answer to one question about their criminal history,” said Legislator Berland, who sponsored the law. “The law also protects the rights of prospective employers, allowing them to inquire about an applicant’s history, but only after an initial interview, permitting the applicant the chance to get their foot in the door and make an initial good impression. Similar laws across the country have done much to reduce recidivism and increase employment, especially in communities of color. I am proud to have sponsored the resolution ‘banning the box’ and thank my colleagues for their support in our quest to make Suffolk County a fairer and more just place for all our residents.”
At the Legislature’s upcoming meeting on September 9, a public hearing will be held on Legislator Richberg’s proposed local law to deter individuals from making false criminal allegations based on bias. If passed, the law would amend the Suffolk County Human Rights Law to prohibit individuals from making false criminal allegations to a law enforcement agency due to their own animosity, antipathy or bias. Enforcement would fall with the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission.
Diversity and Inclusion:
Amplifying efforts to promote diversity and inclusion has been a priority for lawmakers this year. One of Calarco’s first actions when he became presiding officer in January was to raise the issue of diversity to the committee level at the legislature. The legislature’s government operations committee has been given jurisdiction over the issue, and as the committee’s chair, Legislator Gonzalez has led efforts to keep diversity and inclusion in the spotlight and ensure that important discussions are had on the floor.
Legislator Richberg sponsored a resolution passed on June 23 to recognize Juneteenth in Suffolk County. Under the proposal, co-sponsored by Presiding Officer Calarco and Legislators Berland, Gonzalez, Fleming, Sunderman, Hahn, Spencer and Sarah Anker, Suffolk County will commemorate Juneteenth beginning in 2021 and continuing every year after with educational events and programming in recognition of June 19, 1865, the date when the last jurisdiction in the United States read the Emancipation Proclamation, signaling that all enslaved persons throughout the nation were finally notified of their freedom. Additionally, on the evening of every June 19, the H. Lee Dennison Executive Office Building and the Suffolk County Legislature William H. Rogers Building will remain intentionally unlit to commemorate the struggle for freedom for all enslaved individuals in the United States.
With eyes on Suffolk County as an employer, legislators on July 21 passed a measure sponsored by Legislator Richberg to require diversity and inclusion training for all County employees annually. All Suffolk County employees must now attend and pass a mandatory diversity, inclusion, and bias course each year on issues facing people in the workforce relating to diversity and inclusion, including when interacting with the public. An additional component will cover implicit bias and ways to reduce such bias in the workplace.
Lawmakers have also pursued initiatives to ensure fair housing. The Legislature’s Fair Housing Task Force has been meeting to conduct a comprehensive review of the county’s existing human rights law and provide recommendations on how to combat housing discrimination. The task force, chaired by Legislator Gonzalez, was created to address a Newsday report that found that extensive racial steering is occurring throughout communities in Suffolk.
Language access has been another legislative priority, with Legislator Gonzalez leading the charge to protect the interests of residents who speak languages other than English. The Suffolk County Legislature on July 21 unanimously passed Legislator Gonzalez’s resolution that requires the Suffolk County Board of Elections to publish translated election notices in the Spanish-language newspaper that has the highest circulation rate in Suffolk County. Legislator Gonzalez said the move aims to protect the interests of all Spanish-speaking residents who exercise their right to vote and have yearned for this information in their language. The new requirement is currently in effect and applies to all elections the Board of Elections is involved with administering and overseeing.
Legislator Gonzalez also fought to require that county correctional facilities comply with Suffolk’s language access law, which requires that all vital documents provided by a county agency that engages in direct public services be translated into the six most common non-English languages spoken in Suffolk. Legislator Gonzalez sponsored a local law, which became effective July 23, that expressly provides that county correctional facilities need to adhere to these requirements for incarcerated individuals.
Many of these diversity and inclusion initiatives passed with overwhelming support from legislative colleagues.
“Suffolk County is very diverse, and it is important that we embrace this diversity and work to make improvements in our government to make it easier to work and live here. I am proud to support legislation that is reflective of this diversity and improves the lives of all of our residents. As a society we are constantly changing, and instead of resisting change it is important to work in our capacity as legislators to make the transition of change as painless as possible for all the residents of Suffolk County,” said Legislator Sunderman, who, in addition to co-sponsoring the law to prevent discrimination based on physical appearance and the measure to recognize Juneteenth in Suffolk County, also supported efforts to “ban the box,” require diversity training, and publicize election notices in a Spanish language newspaper.
“As representatives, it is important for us as legislators to represent the entirety of our community and to work toward a more inclusive Long Island,” added Legislator Sarah Anker. “I am honored to work alongside my colleagues who have made inclusion a top priority in the legislation introduced and passed this year. I believe we are moving in the right direction as a County and I look forward to more progress.”
Advocates and community members communicated the importance of these diversity, inclusion and anti-discrimination initiatives. Joining lawmakers at the press conference were members of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, members of the Town of Babylon Anti-Bias Task Force, local leaders and community members.
“This has been a year like no other that I have seen in my lifetime. Besides dealing with a world pandemic, we have seen a political upheaval and a spike in racial tensions resulting in our world morphing into divisions not easily remedied,” said Lynda Perdomo-Ayala, chair of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission. “The outcome of all this has brought us to consider, question, doubt, criticize and take action regarding the concerns associated with class and race. It is why today we stand in unity, looking to work and educate the broader community on issues of anti-discrimination, anti-bias, fair housing, diversity, and language accessibility which I have been fighting for throughout the last 30 years. The Suffolk County Human Rights Commission unites with all those who believe these are crucial times requiring us all to stand and defend the rights of our people of Suffolk County and our nation.”
Caption for above photo: At a press conference in Wyandanch, Presiding Officer Rob Calarco, at podium alongside Legislators Susan A. Berland, Samuel Gonzalez and Jason Richberg as well as advocates and community members, highlights diversity and inclusion initiatives the Suffolk County Legislature has pushed forward this year.