By Naeisha Rose
Throughout May, state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) has advanced and introduced new bills that would ease access to voting and protect voters’ rights, and conduct studies on track side hazards along MTA’s railroads.
The two pieces of legislations that were advanced by Comrie were his No-Excuse Absentee Voting and his Expanded Language Options for Ballots bills, according to the state Senate Democratic Conference.
The Absentee Voting bill would amend the state Constitution to allow for any voter to request to vote by mail without declaring a reason in New York, according to Senate Democrats.
His second piece of legislation would direct the Queens County Board of Elections to provide language assistance in Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi.
“Voting should be an equal right for all, not a costly inconvenience for working families, immigrant communities, seniors, and students,” said Comrie. “Expanded voting opportunities and language accessibility are needed to strengthen our state’s democracy. We cannot continue to ignore this issue as countless voices across our state go unheard election after election.”
Comrie’s MTA Commuter Rail Track Safety Legislation, which was introduced this month, was in response to the suspension of rail service at the Hollis stop of the Long Island Rail Road during rush hour.
The interruption in service occurred because the Hollis stop was 0.2 miles away from a waste management facility in Jamaica that caught on fire and took approximately 200 firefighters to put out over the course of 20 hours, according to the FDNY.
Service to the Hempstead, Oyster Bay, Port Jefferson and Ronkonkoma rail lines were all suspended around 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on March 16, 2018 as the fire raged, according to the LIRR.
The blaze was put out the following morning by 44 fire units, and the fire marshal discovered it was an accident caused by the improper disposal of a lithium battery from the waste facility, Royal Waste Services, located at 187-40 Jamaica Ave., an FDNY spokesman said.
There were newspapers and cardboards piled as high as 15 feet at the top of the plant, which made it difficult for firefighters to stop the fire, according to Queens Borough Fire Commander Edward Baggott.
The legislation will direct the LIRR and Metro-North to study track side safety along the agencies’ respective rights-of-way in order to identify potential hazards, such as combustible materials, near above-ground and grade-level tracks, according to Comrie’s office. The senator hopes this will allow the agencies to make recommendations for the removal of such materials.
“This is about ensuring customer safety and service reliability—the most fundamental priorities of any transit agency,” said Comrie.
This was the third major incident in three years to disrupt MTA railroad service, said Comrie.
In 2016, propane tanks stored underneath the Metro-North railroad line in East Harlem caught fire and there was a second fire at the same MTA railroad in 2017. The estimated cost of the 2016 fire was $2.5 million, according to officials.
“Recent events have proved that we should be doing more to monitor unsafe conditions near the MTA’s rights-of-way so that these costly, dangerous, and disruptive incidences can be avoided going forward.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose