By Donna Deedy
State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) has had a banner year. As a freshman senator serving the greater Huntington region, he introduced 68 bills with more than half passing the Senate, according to his office, and 26 percent passing both branches of the state Legislature.
Looking back, Gaughran said in a recent interview the 2019 legislative session, which ended June 20, will be regarded overall as remarkable. He attributes his success rate to the fact that the Senate was comprised of so many freshman senators.
His proudest accomplishment, he said, was passing a bill to provide disability benefits to civilian public employees who responded to Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The bill, called S5898D, offers relief to overlooked workers, such as transit employees and civil engineers who are sick, suffering from severe conditions and are dying from cleanup-related afflictions.
Timothy DeMeo, a first responder for the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation, said he is grateful to Gaughran for getting the legislation passed within four months.
“This law is long overdue and will help so many of us who need to retire to be able to fully address our health concerns,” he said.
DeMeo arrived at the Twin Towers just as the second plane struck and was injured by falling debris. His vehicle, he said, flipped over and pancaked. He has required multiple surgeries and is scheduled for more. DeMeo worked for the DEC for 20 years and logged more than 1,000 hours over the course of four months removing hazardous waste from Ground Zero. Today, he suffers from respiratory ailments and other conditions.
“I call myself the forgotten responder, because I’m not afforded the same benefits of my respected colleagues,” he said.
Some of Gaughran’s other legislative achievements include making the 2 percent property tax cap permanent, allowing for early voting in elections and backing the state’s red-flag law, which establishes rules that keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill.
Gaughran said he opposed bail reform and allowing undocumented immigrants the ability to qualify for a driver’s license, two controversial bills that passed both the Senate and the Assembly and were ultimately signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
In the fall, while lawmakers are out of session, Gaughran expects to hold hearings with his constituents. One issue he’d like to see addressed is high property taxes.
“We may need to open a discussion on consolidation,” he said. Schools, counties and local governments, he said, should work to share more services, which can reduce costs.
With regard to the Long Island Power Authority, Gaughran sponsored several bills. One bill, which proposed financial aid to school districts impacted by LIPA’s tax certiorari cases, stalled in committee. The other bill, S5122A, aimed to prevent LIPA from collecting back taxes through tax lawsuits. The Senate passed the latter LIPA bill unanimously and the Assembly introduced identical legislation, but it remained under legal review in the Assembly and was never put to a vote. Gaughran said that LIPA CEO Tom Falcone and LIPA lobbyists had a strong presence in Albany, after he successfully introduced the LIPA bill. He plans to take the issue up again in next year’s session.
LIPA’s press office did not respond to email requests for comments about its lobbying efforts related to the bills. Record requests filed under New York’s Freedom of Information Law are still pending.
Overall, Gaughran would like to see improvements made to the state’s budget process. Legislators, he said, are bombarded with bills right before the April 1 budget deadline.
“We really have to fix the budget process,” he said. “It’s policy as much as money.”
Photo from Governor’s office