Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has asked Attorney General Letitia James to comment on a controversial law that would make Nassau police and other first responders “a protected class” under the county’s human rights law.
In a letter Tuesday, Curran asked James’ office for “guidance” on whether the legislation “does not legally compromise the right legal balance between the government’s responsibility to protect its uniformed personnel and its duty to exercise their civil rights.” without fear of punishment. ”
Law enforcement unions endorsed the measure, stating that cases of harassment and violence against police officers have increased over the past year. A spokesman for the Nassau County Police Department was unable to provide data on reported incidents against county police officers this week.
Opponents of the legislation – a number of proponents of police reform, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the LGBT Network, a nonprofit advocacy group for LGBT people in Long Island and Queens, and others – have said the bill would improve free speech restricting citizens by bringing people to court for verbal statements made to officials.
In addition, opponents have stated that they refuse to give first responders a protected status, which is now reserved for groups who have experienced “discrimination” or “oppression” in the past.
David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT network, testified against the Lafazan law, among other things.
In an interview with Newsday on Wednesday, Kilmnick described the passage of the bill as “one of the most disgusting signs of ignorance and incompetence”.
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He continued, “For more than a dozen years, we’ve tried to get transgender people under human rights law, which makes their voices even more disturbing and disturbing … [Nassau legislators] Really cared that they would extend the law to protect people who are being discriminated against for their identity. “
Kilmnick predicted opponents would sue when the law becomes law, but “we hope it doesn’t get that far.”
Minority Leader Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), an opponent of the bill, said in an interview on Tuesday that the human rights law is not the way to give first responders more protection.
He said the key question was, “How can we do something that will protect the police and not anger the communities?”
Regarding the turnout of opponents at the legislative session on Monday, he said, “I never think a bill is as valuable when you see this type of opposition.”
Representatives from the Nassau Police Charity Association, the Supervisors’ Association and the Correctional Officers Charity Association spoke out in favor of the bill on Monday.
Nassau PBA president James McDermott told Newsday on Wednesday that he was pleased that “the county legislature voted to provide another layer of protection” for law enforcement officers.
“It is no coincidence that Nassau County has been rated the safest county in America,” said McDermott. “This honor really belongs to the public and the politicians who support us and enable us to do our work.”
When asked for James’ comment on Curran, McDermott said, “I have no control over what the county government does. I hope it comes back in our favor.
Curran, a Democrat who wants to be re-elected in November, has 30 days to decide whether to sign or veto the law that was passed in the state parliament on Monday evening with 12 to 6 votes.
The bill was passed after an emotionally charged eight-hour legislative session in Mineola that was attended by more than 60 speakers, almost all of whom were against the bill.
The attorney general did not respond to a request for comment on Curran’s request.
Ten Republicans and two Democrats – lawmaker Joshua Lafazan, a Woodbury Independent who sits with the Democrats, and Legis. Delia DeRiggi Whitton (D-Glen Cove) – voted for the measure. Legisl. C. William Gaylor III (R-Lynbrook) was missing.
A super majority of 13 votes in the Republican-controlled legislature would be required to override a Curran veto.
Lafazan’s law would allow the district attorney to file lawsuits on behalf of first responders seeking financial damages against demonstrators for “discrimination”.
Legislation would allow first responders to sue people for harassment, injury, threat or assault based on their status as first responders or in uniform.
Penalties for “discriminating” against a first aider could increase to $ 25,000 per violation, or up to $ 50,000 if the violation occurs “while engaging in a riot.”
The United States Code defines riot as “public disturbance” involving violence in which “one or more people are part of a gathering of three or more people”. The definition also includes threats or the threat of violence.
Nassau County’s Human Rights Act currently prohibits discrimination based on factors such as race, disability, gender, and sexual orientation.
No individual occupations or types of occupation are protected by law.
In her letter to James, Curran said Nassau was “proud of our brave police officers and others who serve as first responders. Protecting them from harm is a vital priority for my government. “
Curran continued: “At the same time, the county must not take any action to obstruct or suppress the constitutional rights of citizens to peaceful assemblies and protests.”
Candice Ferrette reports on the government and politics of Nassau County, Long Island. She has been a reporter at Newsday since 2011.