Wednesday, February 6, 2019

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Rockland legislature narrowly passes new civil protections

NEW CITY – The Rockland County Legislature has passed two laws aimed at protecting the rights of minority groups in the county after a contentious meeting on Tuesday.

One measure establishes “a comprehensive human rights law in Rockland County” and also amended the Rockland County Fair Housing Act to further extend the protections it offers to veterans, transgender persons, and other minorities. 

Legislator Alden Wolfe drafted the bill which received wide spread support from Democrats.  Legislator Jay Hood Jr. described the bill “as a very comprehensive law” that will benefit the community. 

“You are going to get much better and faster service (from a county agency) than you would from a state or federal agency; everyone in government knows that,” said Hood, arguing the necessity for local laws that mirror already existing protections guaranteed at higher levels of government.

Legislator Lon Hofstein expressed “a great deal of concern” about the proposal, arguing that the Rockland County Humans Rights Commission, a volunteer organization, may not have the time or expertise to deal with the increased responsibility that would come with adopting the law. 

Legislator Laurie Santulli argued that the bill did not go far enough in protecting the rights of students, saying it did nothing to guarantee or enforce education standards, an issue that she argues has negatively affected Rockland students, specifically those attending East Ramapo Schools.

 Legislator Christopher Carey claimed that the law was unnecessary as those protections it offers are already guaranteed by the state and national government. 

Wolfe and Hood were vocally frustrated with their colleagues’ denunciations, as the bill had been in the drafting process for over 17 months during which Wolfe claims he reached out to the entire legislature for comments and critiques yet received no feedback. 

Hood accused the Republican minority of “politicizing the discussion” while Wolfe stated that the issue of East Ramapo’s education standards was “irrelevant” to the discourse and beyond the purview of the legislature. 

Wolfe argued his bill is a safeguard for minority rights in Rockland and necessary for the Rockland Human Rights Commission as well as Rockland’s fair housing initiatives. 

The county has already been put on suspension by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and has been threatened with the elimination of its chapter of the fair housing program due to its perceived ineffectiveness. 

Wolfe’s bill would grant more authority and resources to the commission, though he is pessimistic that it will be signed by Republican County Executive Edwin Day. 

 


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