HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. – Around this time 50 years ago, Suffolk legislators were wrapping up the county legislature’s first year as a legislative body.
The Suffolk County Legislature was established in January 1970, and in honor of its 50-year anniversary, lawmakers have been reflecting on the legislative body’s evolution and landmark achievements. Earlier this year, the legislature’s Presiding Officer, Rob Calarco, launched a video series called “Celebrating the Suffolk County Legislature’s 50th Anniversary.” In each episode of the series, the Presiding Officer interviews a former legislator about landmark legislation he or she sponsored and delves into the stories behind their passage. The initiative was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic but resumed last month. All videos are available on the legislature’s social media channels and YouTube page.
“Like others marking milestones this year, we had celebration plans that were diverted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we are still honoring this important historical marker and acknowledging all that our predecessors have done to make this legislative body what it is today,” said Presiding Officer Calarco.
The Suffolk County Legislature replaced the 287-year-old Board of Supervisors, which was made up of the town supervisors. With the creation of the legislature, the county was divided into 18 legislative districts, each with its own elected representative. Since then, the legislature has long held a reputation for crafting pieces of landmark legislation that were the first of their kind not just in New York State but also in the country.
“Whether it was banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, protecting children from the dangers of powdered caffeine, or providing residents with a living wage, the Suffolk County Legislature has long held a reputation for creating innovative solutions that were the first of their kind, and it often found itself leading the way for reforms not just in New York State, but in the nation as a whole,” said Presiding Officer Calarco.
In 1981, for example, Suffolk County passed a law requiring 5-cent deposits on soft-drink and beer containers. Only Maine, Vermont and Connecticut had passed such measures at the time. The legislature has since carried on a tradition of being staunch protectors of the environment, including being an early proponent of discouraging the use of plastic bags and limiting the use of plastic straws.
In 2000, Suffolk County was credited with passing the nation’s first county-wide ban on using hand-held cell phones while driving. Then in 2003, Suffolk County became the first in the nation to ban the sale of all dietary supplements containing ephedra. In 2009, Suffolk County created the first Silver Alert program in New York State to help locate missing senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders. A first-in-the-nation animal abuse registry came in 2010.
Several pieces of landmark legislation over the years were passed to protect children. In 2009, Suffolk County was the first in the nation to ban baby bottles and cups that contain the potentially toxic material, bisphenol-A. Later came the Safer Sales Slip Act, a first-in-the-nation ban on receipts coated with that same chemical. Also in 2009, Suffolk County passed a first-in-the-nation ban on the sale of drop-side baby cribs. In 2014, Suffolk County became the first municipality in the nation to ban the sale of powdered caffeine to minors.
Suffolk County has also been on the forefront of many initiatives to limit smoking. In 1994, the county limited smoking in restaurants and bars and banned smoking in schools, day-care centers, bowling alleys, and other sports and recreational facilities. Eight years later, Suffolk banned smoking in bars and restaurants, bingo halls and indoor office workplace areas. In 2005, Suffolk became the first county in New York State to raise the legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 19, and then in 2014 the county raised it again to age 21. In 2015, Suffolk banned smoking in common areas of multiple-dwelling buildings.
The legislature has also remained one of the most transparent local governmental bodies in the nation, especially since adopting the video streaming of all legislative meetings as well as a public budget development process. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislature was a leader in arranging for the public to testify remotely at meetings of the legislature.
“With all the challenges presented by 2020, it is more important now than ever before that legislators continue to build upon the Suffolk County Legislature’s proud history of innovation,” said Presiding Officer Calarco. “The Suffolk Legislature has always been on the forefront of public policy, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue that tradition.”
“Celebrating the Suffolk County Legislature’s 50th Anniversary” Videos
February 2020 - Presiding Officer Rob Calarco and Patrick Halpin, a former Suffolk County legislator, discuss Halpin’s 1981 landmark legislation requiring 5-cent deposits on soft-drink and beer containers Only Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut had passed such measures at the time. Watch at: https://youtu.be/XAbgj84TTNI
March 2020 - Presiding Officer Rob Calarco and Jon Cooper, a former Suffolk County legislator, discuss two of Cooper’s first-in-the-nation countywide bans – one on the use of handheld cell phones while driving, and another on the sale of the dietary supplement ephedra. Watch at: https://youtu.be/QQcpkMTinFI
September 2020 - Presiding Officer Rob Calarco and Steve Stern, a former Suffolk County legislator and current New York State Assemblyman, discuss Stern’s efforts to pass first-in-the-nation countywide bans on the use of products that contain the dangerous chemical bisphenol-A – first in baby bottles, and then in receipts. Watch at: https://youtu.be/NuAvreLC3-M
October 2020 - Presiding Officer Rob Calarco and Steve Stern continue their discussion, touching on Stern’s efforts to pass the first Silver Art program in New York State as well as his efforts to help homeless veterans. Watch at: https://youtu.be/CWzSA04tJh8
Caption for included photo: The Suffolk County Legislature is marking its 50th anniversary by highlighting innovative public policy. Pictured in February, Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco, left, holds a frame containing the pen that was used to sign the 1981 law sponsored by former Suffolk County Legislator Patrick Halpin to require a 5-cent deposit on soft-drink and beer containers in Suffolk County. Halpin, right, holds a soda can showing that only Suffolk County, Maine, Vermont and Connecticut had passed such measures at the time.