New legislative districts in Suffolk will have to wait till the New Year — barring another court intervention and an extraordinary session of the county legislature in the next week.
The reapportionment plan advanced by the County Legislature’s Democratic majority was scuttled at the last minute yesterday in a Riverhead courtroom.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti signed an order preventing the legislature from taking any action on the proposed redistricting plan pending the outcome of a court proceeding next scheduled for Jan. 6.
Presiding Officer Rob Calarco announced the court order at yesterday’s general meeting, the last of the year.
Since Democrats will no longer hold a majority in the legislature as of the first of the year, yesterday’s order means the maps proposed by the majority will not likely be adopted.
Republican legislators vehemently objected to the Democrats’ plan and the process by which it was devised.
The Democrats’ plan would have put two sitting Republican legislators in the same district in two of the legislature’s 18 districts — effectively forcing a Republican primary in those two districts and creating open seats in two other districts.
The Republicans complained that the Democrats were sidestepping the redistricting procedure spelled out in the county charter in an effort to draw district lines that favor Democrats.
The legislature’s minority leader, along with two of the Republican reapportionment commission members and a voter, sued to stop the Democrats’ plan from advancing. State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Santorelli on Dec. 7 granted the plaintiff’s application for a temporary restraining order. An appellate division judge set the TRO aside the same day, which allowed the majority to proceed with a public hearing on that date. See prior story.
The Democrats were poised to move ahead with adopting the plan at yesterday’s general meeting, but Farneti’s order prevented it.
In court papers, the Republicans called the Democrats’ action “a naked power grab.”
The idea behind reapportionment, which takes place after the results of the decennial census are published, is to make sure all legislative districts have roughly equal populations.
The county charter requires the establishment of an eight-member reapportionment commission within 90 days of publication of the decennial census results. It spells out the qualifications of the members of the commission and the types of members to be appointed, all of whom are to be appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the legislature.
The charter also sets a deadline of Feb. 1 (in the calendar year following the release of census results) for the commission to propose a redistricting plan to the county legislature. It requires the legislature to vote on a local law to adopt the plan within 90 days after the commission files its plan with the clerk of the legislature.
The charter spells out rules of procedure for the commission, including a requirement for the commission to hold at least four public hearings — two before devising a plan and two after publication of its proposal. It spells out a procedure for the revision of the commission’s proposal, and a procedure for redistricting should the commission fail to submit a plan to the legislature by Feb. 1.
If the commission fails to file a redistricting proposal by Feb. 1, the charter requires the legislature shall adopt a redistricting plan by June 1 or within 120 days after the state adopts a plan to reapportion State Senate and State Assembly districts, whichever date is later.
But the charter is silent about what happens if a commission is not established within 90 days after publication of the census results — or not established at all. And that’s what happened in Suffolk, leaving Democrats and Republicans divided over what should happen next.
A few days after the 90-day deadline passed, Calarco introduced a local law to adopt a reapportionment plan devised by the Democrats without any input from the Republicans. The Democrats maintained the plan conformed “with all constitutional and statutory requirements,” but the Republicans cried foul and subsequently filed a legal action to block the plan from moving forward.
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