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Suffolk Notebook: Prepaid Cell Phone Bill Fails

Jon Cooper's 'puppy mill bill' recessed until August.

Citing identity-theft concerns while agreeing with the spirit of the bill, Suffolk County legislators on Tuesday voted down a measure which would've required individuals in Suffolk County to present two forms of identification when purchasing prepaid cell phones.

The bill, pushed by Leg. Kate Browning, WF-Shirley, was meant to help police trace criminals who use the untrackable phones to conduct illegal business.

Presiding Officer William Lindsey, D-Holbrook, supported Browning's case along with five others in a 7-11 vote, saying, "If the police department asks for a tool, we have to give it to them."

But beyond presenting two forms of identification, a lack of security in the proper handling of the identification of individuals who would purchase the prepaid phones ended up by being too much for some legislators.

"This goes beyond presenting identification," said Leg. Jon Cooper, D-Llyod Harbor, responding to Lindsey's statement that the public presents identification for many things anyways. "It requires that stores maintain that I.D. and keep it in a file somewhere....This is a very well-intentioned bill, and Kate worked very hard to build support. There are cogent arguments on both sides. But I'm not there yet."

Browning refused to table the bill for a future vote, adding that she's worked on building support for the bill for over a year. She tried assuaging cost concerns by saying that the department of social services would help low-income individuals pay for identification and identity-theft concerns by saying that I.D. theft is a risk whenever people use credit cards.

After a three-hour long public hearing on a bill Cooper presented to ban the retail sale of puppies, Browning was "shocked at the time spent listening to dogs and protecting dogs, yet when this bill comes up, we will allow the drug trade to continue."

For some, the issue of civil liberty played a role in determining that giving up identification for yet another use was just too much.

"Benjamin Franklin said, 'Those who give up a little bit of freedom to obtain security deserve neither freedom nor security,'" said Leg. Lynne Nowick, R-Smithtown. "There are people out there who are truly, truly victims [of prepaid cell phone use]. But to give two forms of I.D. to people behind a counter who just might not care..."

Public hearing for recessed after lengthy talk

Cooper's bill to ban the retail sale of puppies in Suffolk County – an "attempt to protect the mothers of these dogs more so than the dogs themselves," he said – brought along with it nearly three hours of debate and more than two dozen speakers. The bill was recessed until August.

Animal advocates cited statistics that pet retailers called erroneous, namely that 99 percent of pet store puppies come from puppy mills.  Pet retailers made statements that animal advocates jeered at, prompting Lindsey to call the room into order on more than one occasion.

"What this legislation will accomplish will not only help put an end to the squalid, inhumane conditions of the puppy mills that supply puppies for sale to more than 99 percent of the nation’s pet shops, many in Suffolk County," said Pam Green, executive director of Calverton's Kent Animal Shelter. "It will also be instrumental in the education of consumers that the cute little puppy they are about to purchase is the product of the horror of puppy mills."

Jeff Silverstein, a pet retailer who has owned shops in Manhattan, northern New Jersey and Nassau County, called the ban "unconstitutional." Another woman against the bill, a cat breeder, said she believed the proposal violates state trade laws, though she was unable to cite specific sections.

"You have to go after the pet stores that don't care [about the health of their pets]," said Silverstein. "You can't just shut someone down. That's not constitutional. That's not America."

Mary Beth June 25, 2011 at 07:45 PM
This bill was about nothing more than appealing to anti-immigrant hysteria, but, the people it would have hurt the most would have been minorities, elderly and teens. Thank goodness that while the rest of the country seems to be going off the deep end, New York, by defeating this bill and passing gay marriage, remains an example of what can be achieved for the good of all citizens.
Gary Weiner June 25, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Exactly right. This is much more about anti-immigrant posturing than stopping the drug trade. Drug dealers can easily get prepaid phones from outside Suffolk or from online sites like eBay. And maybe we can try electing officials who don't say things like, "If the police department asks for a tool, we have to give it to them."
JSC June 26, 2011 at 01:18 PM
Why would this be an anti-immigrant thing? Don't immigrants also buy cellphones with contracts? Minutes to call home would be significantly more expensive with a prepaid cell than with a regular one! And if someone is using a prepaid cell for drug trade, as you say, they can get one elsewhere to avoid the ID requirement. My 84 year old parents use a prepaid cell to carry around for emergencies only! They don't need a plan to use texting or unlimited minutes. I'd bet that people with low incomes use them also so they don't have to pay a monthly contract fee. I'd dare say there are probably more seniors/low income people using them than "illegals" or "drug dealers"!
davis gaffga June 26, 2011 at 02:10 PM
I want to thank the eleven members of the Suffolk County Legislators who voted Ms. Browning’s bill down. I have some doubt about how well-intentioned she was. Then there is the frighting statement by Mr. Lindsey – "If the police department asks for a tool, we have to give it to them." It seems there are a number of our Legislators who find the Constitution hinders good law enforcement.
George W July 31, 2011 at 12:47 PM
"If the police department asks for a tool, we have to give it to them."??? That's the scariest part of this story.
Irishdave July 31, 2011 at 04:20 PM
How do we combat the known FACT that criminals use the prepaid "throwaway" phones as a "tool" of crime? The scariest part of the story is that the police department does not have a tool to do an investigation properly. With a warrant, our guarantee that it will not be abused, it becomes an effective tool for the police. I see the anti-immigrant hysteria playing card is on the table now. Too bad it is not the anti-illegal immigrant card in play.
Theliberalconservative July 31, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Nice to see some common sense on this post, I believe we have given up much freedom in recent years in the pursuit of freedom. The anti-terrorist battle has scared most Americans into allowing the federal government to infringe more then anytime in our brief history. Phone cards to phone taps….just looking for more ways to control the population at large you and me included!

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