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John Flanagan

Olivia Santoro of the Long Island Progressive Coalition speaks beside Susan Lerner of Common Cause/NY outside state Sen. John Flanagan's office in Smithtown on Tuesday. The group advocated for the passage of legislation that would close a loophole allowing limited liability companies to funnel large sums of money to political campaigns. Photo by Phil Corso

Time is running out for the state Legislature to change the way it allows money to influence politics, and Long Island activists took to the Senate majority leader’s Smithtown office on Tuesday to make some noise.

A loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws has become a political talking point for the better part of the past year, allowing limited liability companies to contribute large sums of cash to political campaigns and committees in amounts far greater than the average corporation can. On Tuesday, groups including Common Cause/NY and Moveon.org took to state Sen. John Flanagan’s (R-East Northport) office to draw attention to legislation that was written to change that, with hopes of swaying a vote on the Senate floor before session ends June 16.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY said her group, which investigates public officials and political contributions, found the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee was one of the largest benefactors of what has been dubbed the LLC loophole, bringing in about $5.6 million in campaign contributions from LLCs over the past 10 years — with 68 percent of which coming from the real estate industry. The Senate Housekeeping Committee also netted more than $11 million over the past 10 years in the same fashion.

Lerner argued that as long as elected leaders are receiving such lump sums of money from politically motivated groups, they will never allow for legislation to come to a full vote enacting any kind of change.

“It’s time for the Senate Republicans to stop blocking the necessary reforms,” she said. “The LLC loophole has a warping affect on public policy.”

Flanagan, who the Long Island advocates singled out on Tuesday as one of the benefactors of LLC contributions to the tune of $159,000 over the past 10 years, referred to the legislation as a “red herring that fails to fundamentally address the root cause” of the campaign finance flaws. He said the state needed to be more aggressive in beefing up money laundering laws and targeting straw donors to keep groups from contributing in the shadows.

“If we are going to achieve real campaign finance reform and target corruption, you can’t close one loophole and declare the job done. In fact, one needs to look no further than New York City for evidence of multiple campaign finance transgressions that must be addressed,” Flanagan said. “We need to take additional steps to prevent the funneling of big money through county organizations and directing where that money will be spent, which is already illegal under state law.”

Senate bill S60B has been sitting in the Senate’s Codes Committee since May 9. The bill, which state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D- Brooklyn) introduced, saw success in the Democrat-controlled Assembly in the past before previous versions died in the Senate. In the legislation, Squadron argued that the Legislature must avoid such loopholes that allow “unlimited sums of anonymous dollars to undermine the entire political process.”

Lisa Oldendorp, of Moveon.org’s Long Island chapter, said the political loophole was a threat to democracy in the United States.

“We are sick and tired of the role that money plays in campaigns,” she said. “It’s way beyond time to pass this law. We want the voice of the people to be heard.”

Alejandra Sorta, organizer of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, which works with working class communities of color to turn the tide of anti-immigrant and anti-worker politics, said the timing was right for such legislation to pass, citing various corruption scandals sprouting up across various local and state governments, which has taken down some major political players.

“In light of persistent corruption charges, indictments and/or convictions stemming from unethical and illegal activity at the hands of some of our most powerful and influential leaders in Albany, communities of color are raising their voices and speaking out against big money in politics,” she said. “We demand concrete electoral reforms that will assure transparency and accountability at every level of government.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright speaks in opposition of the Gap Elimination Adjustment during a 2013 protest against the state school aid cut. File photo by Rohma Abbas

New York State is doing away with a funding cut that has kept billions of dollars out of schools, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced last week.

Legislators recently agreed on a state budget that would end the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a deduction taken out of each school district’s aid for the last several years, originally enacted to close a state budget deficit.

Parents, educators and even legislators have long been advocating for the adjustment’s finish but the push became a shove after state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), the majority leader, sponsored legislation to get rid of it. Flanagan called axing the Gap Elimination Adjustment his “top education funding priority” earlier this year.

“We will not pass any budget that does not fully eliminate it this year,” he said. The deduction “has been hurting schools and students for way too long and it is past time that we end it once and for all.”

Over the past five years, legislators had reduced the total statewide deduction from $3 billion to $434 million. In the next school year, it will be removed all together.

“Over the years, the GEA forced many school districts to cut educational programs and reduce services,” Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said in a statement. “This restoration of aid will greatly help local school districts, and our taxpayers, with the budget funds necessary to educate our children.”

State school aid is projected to increase to almost $25 billion overall — and Long Island is slated to get $3 billion of that.

The New York State School Boards Association noted that the additional aid comes just as the state’s almost 700 school districts are grappling with a “record low” cap on how much they can increase their tax levies, a limit mandated by the state.

“The infusion of state aid will help them preserve student programs and services while still keeping property taxes in check,” the group’s executive director, Timothy G. Kremer, said in a statement.

However, the association said the state should “make sensible adjustments” to the tax levy cap, suggesting officials no longer use the rate of inflation as the standard for setting the limit each year.

From left, Olivia Santoro, Daphne Marsh, Victoria Daza, Aaron Watkins-Lopez and Blanca Villanueva, representing advocacy groups for education funding delivered a petition to Sen. John Flanagan’s Smithtown office Wednesday. Photo by Alex Petroski

A small group of people carried the voices of thousands of New Yorkers standing up for the students across the state.

Activists representing four New York State and Long Island groups in support of education funding — especially for low income districts — dropped off a petition with more than 9,000 signatures from across New York to state Sen. John Flanagan’s (R-East Northport) office in Smithtown Wednesday. Those in support of the petition pledged their support for state Assemblymen Carl Heastie’s (D-Bronx) “millionaire tax bill,” which was introduced in February and proposed an increase in taxes to those who earn upwards of $1 million annually.

The petition was also in support of a full phase-in of the money still owed to pay off the Campaign for Fiscal Equity resolution, which ensured that $5.5 billion would be committed to mostly high-need districts in 2007, and was supposed to take effect over the course of four years. This was a result of a lawsuit started in 1993, which eventually reached the New York State Court of Appeals, which ruled that high-need districts were being neglected. About $781-million of that money is still owed to Long Island schools, according to advocates of the resolution.

The groups represented at Flanagan’s office included New York Communities For Change, Jobs With Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition and Alliance for Quality Education as well as community members from across Long Island. Flanagan was not in his office, and a legal aide who took the petition declined to comment.

“We need to address the emotional, physical, social, needs of the child and the Senate has shown that they are not caring right now with the budget they have proposed,” said Blanca Villanueva, an organizer from Alliance for Quality Education. “We need them to represent us because they represent all of Long Island and all of New York State.”

The petition was also delivered to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office, Villanueva said.

Flanagan has said in the past that he is against the millionaire tax bill. He did not respond to a request for comment regarding the petition.

“As a constituent of Sen. Flanagan’s, I am calling on him to support the millionaire’s tax,” said Olivia Santoro, a member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “I valued my public school education and I want the same opportunity for students growing up in his district and across Long Island. That means that we need to fully fund our schools.”

On March 21, a group of about 40 wealthy New Yorkers in conjunction with the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Responsible Wealth Project sent an open letter to Cuomo in support of Heastie’s millionaire tax bill. Those in support included Steven C. Rockefeller and Abigail Disney, among others.

Flanagan’s proposed 2016-17 budget would eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which has cost districts across the state millions of dollars over the past several years in an effort to close a deficit. It also included almost $600 million for education, though Villanueva said at Flanagan’s office that it was not enough.

“We’ve got this Campaign for Fiscal Equity that we’ve been working very hard to support and we hope that [Sen. Flanagan] can stand with the students in making sure that they receive a quality education and the funding that’s necessary in order to deliver that,” Melissa Figueroa of New York Communities For Change said Wednesday. “We need this support, and I hope that he gets down with us.”

Figueroa is also running for a school board seat in Hempstead School District.

Signs held by those in support of the petition read, “Stand up 4 kids, NOT billionaires,” “Sen. Flanagan, who do you represent?” and “Millionaires Tax: Raise taxes on the 1% by 1% to raise billions for public school education.” The petition was launched on ColorOfChange.org, an organization dedicated to fighting institutional racism.

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Juli Grey-Owens chants with residents at the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The crowd’s chants were loud and in unison: “Trans lives matter. Pass GENDA now.”

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of The Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, joined with members of the Long Island DREAM Coalition, the Bus Riders’ Union, SEPA Mujer and the Move to Amend Coalition and other organizations on Thursday, March 17, at the Setauket Presbyterian Church to demand better transparency and representation from state Sen. John Flanagan (R- East Northport).

While the coalitions had different agendas, they all sought to deliver a message to Flanagan with hopes of sparking a serious conversation on transgender rights, public transportation issues, undocumented students and families, isolated confinement and other concerns they argued were being ignored on the state level of government.

“Right now, Long Islanders — everyday, hardworking Long Islanders — are not being seen as a priority in the state, nor by our own state representative,” said Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for the Long Island Bus Riders’ Union.

Last year, Suffolk County made steps to cut various bus schedules because of a lack of state funding. Watkins-Lopez said that Sen. Philip Boyle (R-East Islip) supported getting additional transit funds, and took steps to establish a piece of legislation when former state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was working in the Senate.

Currently, transgender individuals don’t have any laws prohibiting transgender discrimination in the workplace, housing and more.

After Skelos left office because of his own legal troubles, people like Grey-Owens hoped the Senate would finally pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which was introduced in 2003 as a means of outlawing discrimination in New York State based on gender identity or expression.

The state Assembly passed the bill eight years in a row, but was never brought to a vote in the Senate. Grey-Owens said she hoped Flanagan would bring the bill for a vote when he became Senate majority leader.

According to Grey-Owens, Flanagan said he would support the bill in 2014 if it came to the floor for a vote.

“He refuses to bring the bill to the floor and transgender New Yorkers are forced to wait another year to possibly receive the same rights that all New Yorkers enjoy,” Grey-Owens said during the meeting.

Although Flanagan was unable to make the meeting, his spokesman Scott Reif said the Senate majority leader “prides himself on being open and transparent.” He added that Flanagan’s absence wasn’t personal.

“The senator routinely meets with all groups, as he has done for 30 years throughout his entire public career, regardless of whether he agrees with them or not,” Reif said in an email. “The decision to take a meeting is never influenced by a group’s position on an issue, it is dictated solely by what his schedule will allow.”

Watkins-Lopez expressed disappointment with Flanagan’s absence and said it was imperative for state officials to meet with their constituents and acknowledge their concerns.

“We pay taxes, we pay their salaries. We’re their bosses and they need to remember that,” Watkins-Lopez said after the meeting. “They’re public servants. Serve the public not yourself.”

Flanagan’s absence at the meeting was also disappointing for Dulce Rojas, community organizer for SEPA Mujer. The nonprofit organization aims to help Latina immigrants and representatives demanded that Flanagan address their concerns.

Rojas said that human trafficking is prevalent in the area. Rojas said she “wanted to ask him to start thinking about all the residents on Long Island.”

Left to right, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Sen. John Flanagan discuss the plan. Photo from Cuomo’s office

Keeping the state’s drinking water clean and safe is a subject anyone can get behind, and New York lawmakers across both major parties did just that.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a series of aggressive water quality initiatives last week in the company of elected officials representing the North Shore in an attempt to better protect public health and the environment. His proposals received great praise from both Democrats and Republicans as a common-sense way to keep New York’s water clean.

“Every New Yorker has a fundamental right to clean and safe drinking water,” Cuomo said. “Water is a priceless resource that requires the highest levels of protection, and I am proud to continue this administration’s legacy of standing up for the environment. We are taking aggressive and proactive steps to ensure clean and healthy communities throughout the state — both for current residents and for generations to come.”

Joining Cuomo at a Stony Brook University discussion on the state’s newest water initiatives were Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and more. At that discussion, Cuomo pitched his statewide water quality rapid response team, which he said would work to identify and develop plans to address critical drinking water contamination concerns as well as groundwater and surface water contamination problems.

“It’s imperative that we all work together at the local, state and federal levels to protect the public health,” Bellone said. “The actions that Governor Cuomo has announced today are demonstrating unequivocally that New York is taking proactive measures to not just meet that standard, but to really raise the bar on the protection of water quality.”

Cuomo said the rapid response team would be working to develop a comprehensive action plan to immediately address water quality issues raised by municipalities and concerned citizens, taking on matters ranging from currently regulated contaminants like lead, to emerging contaminants, like perfluorooctanoic acid. It was a plan that his fellow lawmakers said was easy to get behind.

“We are blessed in New York State and on Long Island to have the availability of high-quality drinking water, but we also have a responsibility to protect it,” Flanagan said. “At the end of the day, nothing is more important to New Yorkers and their families than the air they breathe and the water they drink.”

The team will also review and incorporate the best available science and may include new review standards for currently unregulated contaminants, enhanced testing and oversight of drinking water systems, including private wells, and state-of-the-art drinking water treatment options.

“Creating an agenda to safeguard the quality of Long Island’s water source is great news — not only for the health of New Yorkers — but for the environment as well,” Englebright said. “Governor Cuomo’s work to ensure that every New Yorker has access to safe, clean drinking water is a testament to his commitment to statewide public health. The implementation of a water quality rapid response team is a proactive way to protect the environment from harmful water contamination and keep New Yorkers’ drinking water clean and safe.”

The discussion over drinking water came in the weeks following a horrific drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where officials have been scrambling to combat unsafe and potentially life-threatening water contaminations.

The governor also proposed regulations to be imposed on mulch-processing facilities to safeguard natural resources. Cuomo said the Department of Environmental Conservation would propose for public comment draft regulations for mulch facilities to increase oversight and provide enhanced safeguards. The proposed regulations would require facilities to establish water runoff management plans to protect groundwater and place restrictions on pile size and storage to reduce the risk of fires, odor and dust.

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

Lawmakers are stepping up in the fight against synthetic drugs, and one North Shore official said it was a major milestone in a personal initiative to combat abuse.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) joined with Senate Majority Coalition leaders and the Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) to help pass a package of bills that aims to prevent the abuse of deadly synthetic drugs. In a statement, Flanagan said the drugs have become more prevalent across Long Island because their effects are similar to other known hallucinogens or narcotics. But their chemical structures, Flanagan said, are slightly altered, making it more difficult to restrict them.

“The spread of synthetic drugs is affecting every community and will continue to destroy lives unless more preventive action is taken,” Flanagan said. “For five years, I have sponsored legislation that has passed the Senate on numerous occasions so that we can hold criminals accountable for the creation of new and dangerous drugs that evade our current laws. It is past time for the Assembly to join us and help put an end to synthetic drugs today.”

If the Senate bill passes, the state would zero in on the sale of the synthetic drugs known as K2, Alpha-PVP and others similar to them, by creating criminal penalties for possession and sale. The Department of Health would have to maintain an electronic database of known synthetic cannabinoids, listing their compounds, a description of products and their street names, lawmakers said. The legislation would also amend the Controlled Substances Act to add analogous drugs, Flanagan said.

With support from the Senate Majority Coalition and Klein, who heads the Independent Democratic Conference, lawmakers released a report called “The State of Synthetics: A Review of the Synthetic Cannabinoid Drug Problem in New York and Solutions on Ending the Epidemic” earlier this year. The report found that New York taxpayers fronted roughly $22.7 million to respond to what Flanagan called a public health crisis in 2015.

“We must KO K2 from upstate to downstate, and the Senate will send a strong message that synthetic drugs will not be tolerated in our state,” Klein said. “My analog bill will ensure that New York keeps ahead of the chemists’ curve and will ban chemicals that mimic controlled substances as they are tweaked, so the law can no longer be subverted. Now, the Assembly must take action to protect the citizens of New York State.”

The New York State Capitol building in Albany. File photo

For New York schools, cutting the Gap Elimination Adjustment could be an addition by subtraction.

The adjustment, a deduction taken out of each New York school district’s state aid, was enacted several years ago to help the state government close a budget deficit. While the amount deducted has decreased in recent years and there have been efforts to completely restore the funding, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) has recently sponsored legislation that would completely eliminate the system this year, giving more financial help to public schools struggling to make ends meet.

The bill passed in the Senate and must make its way through the Assembly before heading to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D). And as schools across the state wait for the final vote, administrators applauded Flanagan’s efforts in helping them restore their funding.

“Over the past several years our district has been proactive in imploring our elected officials to restore the funds lost under the Gap Elimination Adjustment,” said Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of schools for the Three Village Central School District. “As we enter our latest budget preparations, we are pleased at the news that this effort has taken an important step forward.”

Over in Northport, Superintendent Robert Banzer said restoring aid would “support critical instructional programming and operational budgets that districts rely on to provide a sound environment for our educational community.”

According to Banzer, aid cuts add to pressure on school budgets.

“Marginal tax caps, decreases in revenues and increases in state mandates leave districts with little room to navigate yearly budgets, and the elimination of the GEA would help alleviate the impact of some of these restraints.”

Port Jefferson Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister was not as optimistic that the Gap Elimination Adjustment would be removed.

Sen. John Flanagan file photo
Sen. John Flanagan file photo

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said during a budget presentation at a school board meeting last week.

Leister is estimating a 6 percent increase in state aid next year, a number he called “conservative,” but if the adjustment is eliminated and Port Jefferson receives more state aid than it allots for in the budget, he said school officials would decide together how to spend it.

Comsewogue’s assistant superintendent for business, Susan Casali, said her school district has lost out on almost $23 million in state aid since the first year of the adjustment. In the next school year, Comsewogue schools could lose out on another $1.3 million if the Gap Elimination Adjustment remains. But that could create a problem for the district, which is currently crafting its 2016-17 budget.

“To maintain our financial position and programs, we need to have the full [deduction] restored,” she said in an email this week.

Flanagan said that eliminating the school funding cuts was the Senate’s top priority in education this session. There are currently about $434 million in GEA cuts still in place for schools in 2016-17 but if the bill becomes law, Flanagan said, his legislation would permanently abolish such education budget reductions.

“The Senate’s top education funding priority this year will be the complete elimination of the GEA,” Flanagan said. “Since 2011, the Senate Republicans have worked to restore $3 billion in funding that was lost to schools because of the GEA and we will not pass any budget that does not fully eliminate it this year. The GEA has been hurting schools and students for way too long and it is past time that we end it once and for all.”

Former Gov. David Paterson (D) imposed the GEA in 2010 despite widespread opposition from Republicans. Since it was approved, Flanagan said he and his Republican colleagues have been leading the charge to abolish the GEA and deliver funding increases to help mitigate its impacts on education. Over the past five years, he said, the GEA cuts have been reduced by roughly 85 percent, to $434 million in the 2015-16 budget.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) co-sponsored the legislation alongside Flanagan. In a statement, he said the move was long overdue.

“The elimination of the GEA has been a top priority of mine since it was imposed,” LaValle said. “It has hurt our students and increased costs for taxpayers. The bill we passed completely abolishes the GEA this year and ends its devastating impact on state funding to public schools.”

The legislation has already gained support on the other side of the state Legislature, with Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) saying he was in favor of the GEA elimination and calling on the governor to return all the funds taken from schools since it was imposed.

“It’s simple: The state has an obligation to fully fund our school districts. Some members of the legislature made the shortsighted decision to allow the governor to borrow against the future of our children to close a budget gap created by rampant, uncontrolled spending,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was wrong then and must be resolved once and for all.”

Victoria Espinoza, Elana Glowatz and Alex Petroski contributed reporting.

New law requires all smoke alarms sold in New York to operate on batteries that function for a decade

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

This time, the batteries are included.

State legislation aiming to address fire safety for New York families was signed into law this week, requiring every smoke alarm sold be equipped with a nonremovable, nonreplaceable battery that powers the device for a minimum of 10 years. State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) heralded the new law he sponsored as a protective measure against house fires.

In a statement, the senator said the law would help ensure that smoke alarms are operational for a longer period of time and hopefully save lives. Since smoke alarms were first mandated in the state back in 1961, Flanagan said that deaths due to fire have been cut in half, but most deaths due to fire today happen in homes with either no smoke alarm or a nonfunctioning one. Under the new law, Flanagan said, homeowners can be protected from dangerous fires for a longer period of time without constant maintenance.

“Too many families in our state have suffered the loss of a loved one due to a fire emergency, and this new law is aimed at protecting New Yorkers from this pain,” Flanagan said. “The data is crystal clear in how essential smoke detectors are in saving lives.”

Over the operational life of the average smoke alarm, the new law could also potentially save homeowners money by eliminating the need for replacement batteries every six months, Flanagan said. After the 10-year operational time period of the device, a new smoke alarm device would need to be purchased as a replacement.

Firemen’s Association of the State of New York President Robert McConville said lawmakers, including Flanagan, have taken big steps to keep New York families safe.

“We would like to thank State Sen. John Flanagan for his leadership on this critical issue. Simply put, his efforts in passing this legislation will help save lives in New York State,” he said. “We’ve seen time and again that working smoke alarms can be the difference between life and death. Together, State Sen. Flanagan, Assemblyman Joseph Morelle (D-Irondequoit), and N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) have succeeded in making New York a safer place to live.”

The new law will go into effect in April 2019, once an agreed-upon chapter amendment between the Governor, the Senate and the Assembly is approved.

It will not apply to devices which have been ordered or that are in inventory when the law goes into effect. It will not impact devices that are powered through electrical systems, fire alarm systems with smoke alarms, fire alarm devices that connect to a panel or other devices with low-power radio frequency wireless communication signal.

Additionally, the upcoming amendment will provide the state fire administrator, through its regulatory process, the ability to designate other devices that are exempt from the legislation.

“It is critical that all homeowners who do purchase these devices in our state are able to trust them for a full decade,” Flanagan said. “The goal is to help New Yorkers protect their homes and their families, and this legislation is a great step in that effort.”

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Fred Sganga, Sen. Flanagan and Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president of Health Sciences at Stony Brook University, smile after Flanagan received an honorary award at the Long Island State Veterans Home. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Veterans Day isn’t just another day on the calendar for those who served.

“I can’t speak,” said Armmond Bergeron while fighting back tears. The veteran was unable to put together more than a few words about the Veterans Day Ceremony at Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook. “It hits me right here,” he added, pointing to his heart.

Veterans, religious figures, New Lane Elementary School students and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) were among those who attended the home’s seventh annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 6. The home invited Flanagan to speak at the ceremony, as he is an avid supporter of veterans and the sacrifices they make or made for the nation.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have the liberties, freedoms [and] protections that I do because a lot of people that are sitting here today,” Flanagan said in an interview.

According to Fred Sganga, executive director of the veterans home, the ceremony honors the more than 42 million Americans who served the nation. He added that those who served the nation continue paying the price, even after their military service ends.

For the senator, how society treats people correlates to how veterans are cared for when they return home. Earlier this year, the home called upon the senator, seeking financial assistance — the Long Island State Veterans Home qualified for a $15 million construction grant to fund future projects. The home hoped to further assist its veterans by providing a lift system, upgrading the building’s elevators and renovating each resident’s room.

According to Sganga, the federal government agreed to provide $10 million and the state funded the rest of the money. Flanagan secured the rest of the money three days after the veterans home sought his help.

This is his 13th year representing the community and the veterans at the home — and his efforts earned him the name Guardian of the Long Island State Veterans Home, according to Sganga.

While Flanagan was met with cheers when he took the podium, it was the fifth-grade students from New Lane Elementary school in Selden who brought the veterans together. Many veterans joined the students as they sang a variety of songs, including “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “The Marines’ Hymn” and several others. Veterans like Bergeron even stood to clap and dance along as the students sang. Following the ceremony, the fifth-graders went through the crowd of veterans and shook their hands.

Korean War veteran Walter Muller added his thoughts on the ceremony, saying that it was wonderful.

Muller served in the war for 22 months, from 1954 to 1955. His fellow veteran Bergeron was too young to serve in World War II, but he said he helped rescue soldiers when he was able to serve. Like many veterans, the service was a special way to honor his sacrifices.

“I got a lot of things going down,” Bergeron said about his health. “But I’ll never get anything less than I got here today.”

Environmental advocates call for the banning of microbeads in order to protect waterways like the Long Island Sound. from left, Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Dr. Larry Swanson of Stony Brook University, Dr. Artie Kopelman of Coastal Research Education Society Long Island, George Hoffman of Setauket Harbor Protection Committee, Rob Weltner of Operation SPLASH, Matt Grove of Surfrider, Enrico Nardone of Seatuck Environmental, and Katie Muether of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. Photo from Maureen Murphy

When it comes to water pollution, size does not matter.

That’s why a group of environmental advocates gathered along the shoreline of the Long Island Sound in Stony Brook last week to call for state legislation that would ban the tiny but potentially harmful microbeads in personal care products.

The rally was organized to coincide with June 8’s World Oceans Day and zeroed in on the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which would ban personal care products made with the tiny plastic pellets called microbeads, which advocates said are hurting waterways and wildlife because New York’s wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter them prior to the water’s release into the environment.

The legislation passed the Assembly in April but has remained idle in the Senate.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Republican Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats), with 37 cosponsors — a total that surpasses the 32 votes it needs to pass.

William Cooke, director of government relations for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, helped orchestrate the rally and called on Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) to use his new role as majority leader to help ensure a microbead ban passes before legislative session ends June 17.

“While microbeads are small, the problem they are creating is very large,” Cooke said. “The solution is unbelievably simple and absolutely free. The answer is to take them out of our products now. This legislation currently has more support than is needed to pass. The only question is will the new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan allow it to move forward.”

The New York State Attorney General reported that 19 tons of plastic microbeads enter the wastewater stream in New York annually, and the tiny beads are passing through treatment plants on Long Island and throughout the state. Plastic microbeads in state waters accumulate toxins, are consumed by fish, and can work their way up the food chain, putting public health at risk.

“The Microbead-Free Waters Act has a clear pathway to passage. If it’s not brought up for a vote, it’s a clear sign that industry has once again silenced the majority of New York’s state senators,” said Saima Anjam, environmental health director at Environmental Advocates of New York, who was at the rally. “New Yorkers expect more from new leadership. … Senators Flanagan and O’Mara need to allow a simple up or down vote on bills supported by a majority of members.”

Flanagan’s office declined to comment on the matter.

Late last year, Suffolk County committed to studying the health and economic impacts of banning microbeads on the county level to the praise of county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who argued that Suffolk needed to follow the likes of municipalities like Illinois, which was the first state to outright ban the sale of cosmetics containing plastic microbeads.

“On a macro level, there is no doubt that microbeads are finding their way into our nation’s rivers, lakes and oceans,” said Hahn, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “What we need to know is to what extent, locally, these additives [impact] our environment and, if corrective action is needed, what ramifications would be expected.”