New law to combat heroin use
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While individual school boards have endorsed the law, according to Mejias, others including the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association and some Republican county lawmakers have claimed that the language of the bill leaves school districts, and possibly the county, liable to lawsuits. They have urged Mejias to expand the bill to require notification of other community organizations as well, and proof from the county attorney's office that the county and schools would not be held liable if provided with such information by police.
Peter Schmitt, the Legislatures Republican minority leader, has been critical of portions of the bill since a Dec. 1 public hearing, when he challenged Mejias to provide assurances that the county and local school districts would not be held liable. "I don't think anyone is questioning the intent of this law," said Schmitt. "I remain concerned about the issue of liability.
Jay Breakstone, Nassau vice president of the NSSBA, who had voiced similar concerns at the bill's public hearing, spoke again at a legislative session on Dec. 15, when the bill passed. Breakstone wondered why, if the intent of the law was to bring the heroin epidemic to light, school districts would be the only ones notified. School district boundaries, he said, do not always coincide with those of villages and hamlets, and therefore many residents may be excluded from finding out valuable information.
Breakstone said that he supported the law in theory, but, like Schmitt, he was concerned about liability issues. "The school boards are responsible for children six hours a day, but the community is responsible for them 24 hours," said Breakstone, who proposed the notification of churches, synagogues and civic groups as well as schools. "School boards will have to do something about this, and that costs money."
Mejias accused Breakstone and Republicans in the Legislature of looking out for themselves rather than the well-being of students. "You're going to know that there's a heroin dealer in your schools whether you want to or not," Mejias said after Breakstone made his argument on Dec. 15.