In 2016, John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, won the 8th Senate District seat long held by Republicans, in a close race against Republican Michael Venditto. This year, he faces a challenge from Massapequa Park Mayor Jeff Pravato, who has framed the election as pivotal to maintaining a Republican majority in the senate.
The Herald asked both candidates the same four questions on issues that face South Shore residents, in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election.
Herald: What do you plan to do to make for safer schools? Are you in favor of armed guards in schools? If so, how would you propose implementing them?
Brooks: More guns in schools isn’t the answer to gun violence. There have been gun attacks at all of these venues, so unless we want to live in a militarized state, with armed guards patrolling the streets, the answer isn’t to add more guns into our lives. Our educators are tasked with helping our children grow and learn — they aren’t meant to be armed guards, and we shouldn’t force them to bring guns into their classrooms. This past year, a student-driven movement across the country rose up and demanded passage of common-sense gun safety legislation that would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. I want our kids to be safe in school, and I also want them to be safe in malls, movie theaters, restaurants, concerts and on the streets of Long Island. We need to pass the firearm safety bills I have been proud to push, legislation like extreme risk protection, banning bump stocks, implementing strong background checks and more. These bills would help save lives, but the Senate Republican leadership refused to allow a vote on a single one. We need real gun-safety reform in Albany, and I am going to keep fighting to make that happen.
Pravato: The safety of our children while at school is a paramount issue. The last thing we, as parents, want to feel when we send our children off to school is a sense of insecurity. As a father of four children, I believe that Albany needs to more to protect our children. We need more funding to keep our schools safe. This includes providing state grants to give schools the option of having a school resource officer who could be a retired or active-duty law enforcement officer. In addition, we must provide our schools with the proper funding to utilize the latest in hi-tech security measures. In my opinion, nothing comes before the safety and security of our children.
Herald: While the death toll from the opioid epidemic appears to have finally turned a corner and begun to slowly decline, there are still too many young people dying from addiction. A big part of the problem is lack of access to treatment due to a disparity in health insurance coverage. What would you do to try and change this?
Brooks: I have been proud to help organize Narcan trainings around my district, and to partner with organizations, law enforcement and public officials to help combat opioid abuse. We need to approach this crisis from multiple angles, including raising awareness about the danger of opioids, improving services for Long Islanders struggling with opioid abuse and improving the quality of health insurance. We need to ensure that all Long Islanders have access to high-quality health care coverage that will help them and their loved ones stay healthy. Insurance companies need to provide the support and services Long Islanders struggling with abuse and recovery need to live long and healthy lives. This will help reduce costs for public benefits like Medicaid, and will keep our residents healthier. I have worked closely with law enforcement and advocates to deliver real resources to ensure we utilize a multi-pronged approach, working with the Massapequa Takes Action Coalition to obtain grant funding, partnering with Nassau and Suffolk police to provide legislative solutions, and hosting work groups and town halls across the district to hear one-on-one from residents struggling with these issues. But, again, I truly believe that the best way to combat the opioid crisis is to take a multi-pronged approach, and I will keep working with local, state and federal officials to ensure our communities have the support and aid they need to beat this opioid epidemic.
Pravato: I will lead a collaborative effort with parents, coaches, teachers, police and mental health professionals to protect our children. We need stronger penalties for heroin dealers and shady doctors who prescribe drugs to fuel opioid addictions. We also must work with the insurance companies to get longer treatment coverage. We need to strengthen measures to prevent dealers from preying on children, and we need to expand the availability of treatment beds to help loved ones break their addiction.
Herald: What do you think can be done on a state level, and in communities, to stop the violence of MS-13? Do you support putting money into more preventative programs to slow or stop recruitment?
Brooks: Immigration and combating multi-national and multi-state gangs is a federal issue, and we are being failed by the federal government. We are not getting the support, leadership or financial assistance we need from the federal government, and that isn’t fair. That is why I have worked with my colleagues in state government to bring more financial assistance and state aid to Long Island to combat MS-13. In partnership with Governor Cuomo, the State Legislature secured $18.5 million for schools and groups for after-school programs and job-training to fight gang violence. I was proud to aggressively advocate for $3.2 million of that money to go into the Roosevelt School District. We need to protect our communities, keep criminals off the streets and ensure that vulnerable populations aren’t being forced or lured into joining these gangs. I am going to keep fighting for my community in Albany and I will work tirelessly to bring more state funds back to Long Island to help fund preventative programs, as well as law enforcement efforts.
Pravato: More absolutely needs to be done to stop the violence of MS-13, and I will work to secure more funding and tools for our communities and law enforcement to fight MS-13. I believe Nassau and Suffolk police — and all police departments across the nation — should have the ability to work with federal law enforcement officers to detain and deport illegal aliens accused and convicted of violent crimes. If you are an American citizen and commit a crime, law enforcement takes immediate action to investigate your background, and then uses that information to protect other Americans. There should be absolutely no difference in this process when it comes to those living illegally in the United States.
Herald: What is your plan to keep young people living on Long Island after they move out of their parents’ homes and/or graduate college?
Brooks: We need to make it easier for young adults and people just starting their careers to afford to live on Long Island. That means we need to lower taxes, and make it easier for young adults to live in their own apartments and homes. We also need to invest in job-creation programs to help unleash the potential of Long Island entrepreneurs and small business owners. This January, Senate Republicans voted to repeal a bill I sponsored, the First Home Savings Program, which would have made it easier for first-time homebuyers to save for a down payment by authorizing individual mortgage savings accounts. Last December, Washington Republicans passed the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that capped SALT deductions at $10,000, effectively forcing Long Islanders to pay taxes on their taxes. We need to invest in job training programs and our educational institutions, both undergraduate, college and beyond. We need to lower the cost of living on Long Island, and help encourage more small businesses to grow and hire Long Islanders, which will allow us to help retain young adults and attract more to settle on Long Island. I have been proud of my fight to lower taxes, and my push for the Brooks Property Tax Relief Plan. I am going to keep fighting to make Long Island a better place for young adults to live, work and raise a family.
Pravato: When you look around on Long Island, we have many of our young voters who move off the Island for one main reason: opportunity. We need to provide the best opportunity we can for our future to succeed. This is why I am running. I want to make sure that we can provide the opportunity for our young voters to stay here on Long Island, and work and raise a family here. Affordability is the reason young people continue to leave our state. We must stop all new entitlements, and, instead, deliver property tax relief to homeowners. We must also make the property-tax cap permanent. It starts by improving our job climate, and to do that, we must work to cut taxes and control spending. We must also invest in our infrastructure. Roads, highways and the LIRR must be maintained, and we need to continue to think forward about how we can improve our downtowns.