Niagara County sig

Niagara County Courthouse in Lockport

Niagara County is gearing up for a legal challenge to New York State's controversial "Green Light" law.

Members of the county legislature agreed on Tuesday to support the filing of a lawsuit aimed at derailing the state's plans to begin issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants starting in December. The resolution approved by lawmakers authorizes the county to engage legal counsel to commence the legal action, which would be brought in state court. Erie County previously filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the law. 

Before Tuesday's vote, Niagara County officials who have been critical of the Green Light legislation since its June passage expressed concerns that it has the potential to open up local, state and federal elections to voter fraud. 

“This decision is to preserve the sanctity of our election process and ultimately our democracy. I believe that Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo and his supporters have gone far beyond their rights as state representatives, by failing to properly assess the dangerous impact the Green Light Law will have,” said one of the resolution's co-sponsors, legislator Rebecca Wydysh, R-Lewiston.

Niagara County Clerk Joe Jastrzemski, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the new law, again expressed concerns that non-citizens applying for driver's licenses might provide documents from foreign countries that department of motor vehicles employees might not be equipped to understand. He also has consistently argued that the law asks people in his position to essentially violate federal law, which bars individuals who are not citizens from participating in elections.

"This law is an awful law," Jastrzemski said.  

While county officials acknowledged during a press conference before the legislature meeting that they do not have any estimates on how many non-citizens who would qualify for a driver's license under the Green Light law currently reside in Niagara County, they argue that even one vote cast by a non-citizen represents an illegal act as well as an affront to the election system.  

"Their illegal votes, once counted, can't be undone," said county attorney Claude Joerg, who provided an overview of the county's legal position prior to the legislature vote.

In other matters, the legislature: 

• Did not approve an amended version of a resolution that attempted to grant members of the public the chance to address the legislature on any county issue at the beginning of regularly scheduled meetings. The amended version was rejected in the administration committee by a 3-2 vote, with legislators David Godfrey, Williams Collins and Anthony Nemi all voting against. 

After the meeting, Godfrey said he saw no reason to change the current set-up for public speakers. He said he considers the current system, which grants time to speakers who want to discuss non-agenda items at the end of each meeting, to be fair and more accommodating to residents than the rules in some other neighboring counties. 

• Appointed North Tonawanda City Court Judge Katherine D. Alexander to the Niagara County Community College Board of Trustees. Alexander, the former North Tonawanda city attorney, replaces fellow attorney Vincent M. Sandonato, who resigned from the college board on July 29. 

Approval of Alexander's appointment followed objections from Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, who asked why applications for the position weren't sought from a wider audience before Alexander was selected. Virtuoso referred to the process as a "sham," noting that the county sought applications from county residents when a previous vacancy on the college board was filled. 

"This position should be advertised like it was the last time," he said.