The Suffolk County Legislature adjourned last week following another busy and productive year. While there is always more to do, I am proud to have been a part of this incredibly thoughtful and caring body as we continued to advanced forward thinking policies to improve quality of life for Suffolk residents. As we wrap up 2017 and look ahead to 2018, I want to wish all residents of the Fifth District a happy and prosperous year ahead. Here are a few of initiatives I am most proud of accomplishing this year and a quick peek at 2018 initiatives in the works now.
Majority Leader Kara Hahn Reelected for Second Term
The Suffolk County Legislature's Democratic Majority Caucus began 2017 by unanimously reelecting me to serve as its leader. I was first nominated to lead the 12 member conference comprised of Democratic and Working Families Party lawmakers in 2016.
Legislator Hahn Tapped to Lead Two Vital Committees
This year I had the privilege of serving as chairperson of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture [EPA] committee and also, for the first time, as chair of the Parks & Recreation committee. While the appointment of a single legislator to serve as chairperson of multiple committees is a rare honor, my accomplishments as EPA Chairperson since 2012 and Vice-Chair of Parks & Recreation since 2014 uniquely qualified me for this dual role. In addition to EPA and Parks, I also represent your interests as a member of four additional committees: Education & Human Services; Government Operations, Personnel, Information Technology & Housing; Economic Development; and Public Safety committees during the 2017 legislative session.
Shining Light on Forfeiture Funds
In a move to increase public transparency of asset forfeiture funds administered by Suffolk County’s Police and Probation Departments and District Attorney’s and Sheriff’s offices, Legislators approved a policy requiring recipient agencies to report on asset forfeiture accounts’ including receipts and expenditures. The bill that I sponsored also directs the County Comptroller to conduct biennial audits of all books, records and accounts in receipt of these monies in order to provide greater insight into funding the County receives through the confiscation and sale of assets resulting from, or used to support, illegal activities.
Watching Out for Our Parks
Following the discoveries of illegal dumping within several Long Island parks, including Suffolk’s West Hills County Park, I sponsored an initiative that will provide greater citizen involvement in the protection of the county’s public lands through the launch of “Parks Watch” which is similar to the highly effective Community Watch program. As many County park holdings are within residential neighborhoods, the program recruits and encourages neighbors of parkland, as well as other Suffolk County residents, to protect by our natural treasures by watching for and reporting suspicious activity through a dedicated hotline, and email address.
Suffolk Increases Fines, Allows Jail Time in Dumping Cases
The penalty for illegally dumping on County owned properties may now include jail time in following the adoption of my bill to both increase fines and add the potential of up to one year imprisonment for anyone convicted. Through the 2017 changes to the law, maximum fines for illegal dumping of non-construction, demolition and hazardous material wastes by a business will increase to $15,000 from $5,000, while the penalty for dumping those dangerous materials will be up to $10,000 for an individual and $15,000 for a corporation. Under the amendments, both an individual and someone dumping on behalf of a commercial entity may be sentenced to one year in jail. Imposition of the ultimate fine or criminal sentence is within the sentencing court’s discretion.
For far too long, fines associated with illegal dumping were considered just the cost of doing business. With Suffolk’s new policy, however, for those who choose to pursue greed over the health of the public and our environment, the cost has just gotten a lot more expensive. My hope is that the one-two combination of increased monetary penalties and potential jail time will give pause to any person or commercial entity when they realize these significant fines and the potential loss of freedom means dumping is no longer a cost effective business strategy.
From Fee to Free for Suffolk County’s Disabled Veterans
Suffolk repealed a number of fee increases that would have hit disabled veterans visiting County parks this past summer through the adoption of my “Suffolk County Thanks Our Disabled Veterans Act” which was unanimously approved. Under the Act, per night amenity fees for camping in Suffolk County Parks were waived for residents with service-related disabilities. Until 2017, Suffolk’s disabled veterans were not charged for using County parks; however, adopted change to the Parks Department fee structure that took effect on the First of the year would have added electric, hookup, and premiere site charges for camping without an exemption for disabled veterans. My initiative corrected that omission and reaffirms Suffolk County’s gratitude for the sacrifices of the men and women of our nation’s armed forces.
Check-in to Fun with Suffolk County’s Parks Passports
In June, Suffolk County began issuing “passports to adventure” through a pilot program that I created to encourage children to explore each of the 25 local parks located within the Fifth Legislative District. Participants use Parks Passports created by my office, which contain the location of each park, details for each, and suggests activities the “explorer” can participate in while visiting. It’s a great way to keep children occupied during spring and summer school breaks.
For the program, Parks Explores are asked to check-in at each location by finding a Suffolk County Parks Passport Check-in sign, then either scanning the QR code on the sign with a mobile device or by entering the web address listed on the sign into a web browser. Upon “check-in” the explorer will earn a badge for visiting that park, which is then printed it out and paste in the Passport.
For those explorers wishing to go completely paperless, I also created an entirely digital option that issues Open Badges – visual tokens of achievement that combine to tell a cohesive story about one’s learning – that can be downloaded by the recipient or uploaded to any Open Badges-compatible service. Paperless badges are issued after registered participants snap a photo of a site’s Suffolk County Parks Passport Check-in sign and send it by email to me at: email@example.com.
Green Light for Greenbelt Preservation
Suffolk County took the first step toward preserving 17.29 acres of open space located in Port Jefferson Station by authorizing the appraisal of 62 separate properties within the Terryville Greenbelt. My legislation, which directs the Suffolk County Planning Division to assess owners’ interest in selling these environmentally sensitive tracts’ to the County for open space purposes, is one of three steps required under County law for potential purchase of land through the voluntary drinking water protection program.
The Terryville Greenbelt is located south of Route 112, adjacent to the rear of Comsewogue High School, and is approximately 75 total acres. The Town of Brookhaven has already preserved approximately 40 of those acres through its open space acquisitions program, and is expected to partner with the County on these additional purchases and subsequent maintenance of the greenbelt.
Pushing Preservation along Historic, Environmentally Sensitive Smithtown-Brookhaven Corridor
Recognizing that the development of an 150 room hotel, two medical office buildings totaling 128,400 feet and two long-term care buildings that will house 220 assisted living units on the 41 acre former Gyrodyne property would not be good for our safety or our quality of life, I sponsored legislation to preserve what is considered to be one of the largest undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County. The move allows the County’s Planning Division to assess the owner’s interest in selling this environmentally sensitive tract to the County for open space purposes. If the property owner, GSD Flowerfield, LLC of Smithtown, expresses an interest in participating in this voluntary open space protection program, the County’s initial outreach will be followed by appraisals and additional legal and environmental reviews required for a potential future sale.
Situated along the historic Route 25A corridor extending from Mills Pond Road in Saint James to the Brookhaven-Smithtown border in Stony Brook, the largely undeveloped Gyrodyne property is within a freshwater wetlands and adjacent wetlands that feed into the Long Island Sound, Mill Pond in Stony Brook and Stony Brook Harbor. If the “mega development” of the property is permitted, preservation proponents expect the project to increase traffic, hurt the environment and diminish quality of life within both Smithtown and Brookhaven Towns. During 2018, I will continue to lead the effort to preserve this land.
…A brief look ahead for what’s in store for 2018
It’s in the Bag
For more than a generation, plastic bags have become an ugly part of our modern landscape, getting stuck in trees, littering our roadways and polluting our surface waters, which endangers wild life too. On January 1, 2018 retailers in Suffolk County will begin charging a minimum of five cents for each carryout plastic or paper bag the shop provides to customers. The surcharge was adopted in 2016 through a law that I co-sponsored to encourage consumers to use their own reusable bags for shopping and to reduce the far reaching negative environmental impacts associated with single use bags. Currently, an estimated 80% of Suffolk County shoppers request non-reusable bags from retailers during checkout. However, I am confident that, in time, this bill will change how consumers view the use of these bags and ultimately, this small change in behavior will significantly benefit our quality of life and environment.
Returning Elections to the People
Last week the Suffolk County Legislature approved an initiative that I was pleased to have co-sponsored that creates a public financing system for county elections. The bill sets strict limits on the amount of money that candidates can raise and spend on their campaigns for Suffolk County Executive and Legislature. It also establishes a fund that will provide matching money for candidates who raise money for their campaigns with small donations from residents of their district. If signed into law early next year, candidates seeking County elective office beginning in 2021 will be able to participate in the voluntary program.
Issues to work on in 2018
- Continue to protect water quality.
- Developing training for athletic coaches on how best to prevent and deal with the opiate epidemic among their players.
- Improve system to report and prevent sexual harassment within the Suffolk county workforce and small businesses.
- Improve infrastructure at our County parks including a walking path at Old Field Farm and gates to prevent ATV use at various County properties.
- Invest in cultural activities and best practices that promote economic development and help our small businesses.