Mineola first Nassau village to outlaw aggressive panhandling

Mineola's Long Island Rail Road station. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Mineola became first village in Nassau County, and second on Long Island, to outlaw aggressive panhandling on Wednesday.

The law passed 3-0, with Trustee Paul Pereira and Trustee George Durham absent.

It will go into affect immediately.

“I will notify the police department that it’s on the books, and hopefully we don’t have to use it because that means I don’t have a problem,” Mayor Scott Strauss said in an interview following the meeting.

The Village of Patchogue passed a similar law last October.

Mineola’s decision comes nearly two month after a public hearing was held on the matter, when an attorney with the Empire Justice Center said the law attacked the poor.

At the same meeting, former Mineola Mayor and state Sen. Jack Martins, who now lives in Old Westbury, said he supported the law. A couple of residents also spoke out in favor of the law.

The village kept the hearing open 30 days for written public comment, but village officials said none was submitted, including from the Empire Justice Center.

“I guess the law as written passed the muster of the Empire Justice Center,” Strauss said. “Once they read the law and realized we weren’t going after anybody’s social status, we were just going after acts off aggression.”

Don Friedman, managing attorney of the Long Island office of Empire Justice Center, said in an interview Thursday morning that the center did not submit additional comments because they had nothing more to say than what was said at the public hearing.

Friedman reiterated that the center feels this law “contributes to demonizing the poor.”

“People likely to be affected to be punished under this law are almost definitely and entirely going to be poor, very poor, likely homeless and likely have mental and or physical disabilities,” Friedman said.

Strauss has said the law is not addressing a person’s status, but rather is addressing certain acts.

The law states its intent is to “protect persons from threatening, intimidating, or harassing behavior.”

The law will be enforceable by Nassau County Police and MTA Police.

Under village code, a first-time offender can receive a fine of up to $1,000.

A second offense within a five-year period can result in a fine of up to $3,000; a third, or more, offense within a five-year period can result in a fine of up to $5,000.

Each offense could also result in 15 days in jail in addition to the fine.

The law will apply to the entire village, but village officials say the present panhandling issue is mainly a problem near the train station.

Strauss met with the police department and homeless advocate agencies in the fall of 2017, he said.

The police department suggested the village put a law like the one passed last night on the books.

“So should they come across a situation where somebody is acting inappropriately and over the top that the police department has a tool they could use to issue a summons, make an arrest if they need to,” Strauss said. “…Without this law, their hands are kind of tied.”

The Nassau County Police Department was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

Voting on the panhandling law was not scheduled for Wednesday’s work session agenda.

The village was supposed to have a separate public hearing, in regards to the opening of a laundromat on Jericho Turnpike, that was canceled by applicant request, according to village documents.

On the day of a public hearing, the board is allowed to add other items to vote on, according to Village Clerk Joe Scalero.

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