Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Tuesday vetoed a bill that gave police and other first responders the right to sue under the county human rights law if they were “discriminated against” by protesters or others.
Curran cited a new statement from Attorney General Letitia James questioning the constitutionality of the bill, which Nassau County legislature approved on Aug. 2 after a long and divisive public hearing.
In her veto letter to lawmakers, Curran acknowledged the parishioners’ “genuine concern that the law would intimidate free citizens into peaceful demonstrations without fear of retaliation.”
Curran continued, “There is no consensus between elected officials and the public that this current piece of legislation is necessary, carefully crafted and without negative consequences.”
Rick Sawyer, James’ special hate crime investigator, told Curran in a letter that the bill “raises constitutional issues serious enough to warrant multiple judicial challenges to its validity.”
Sawyer argued, “Whether the law would survive such challenges is by no means clear, but the county would bear the full cost of defending the law. These costs and this law are unnecessary because the Criminal Law and the Nassau Administrative Law already provide a number of improved safeguards for first responders. “
Opponents say the proposed law could intimidate people who want to protest peacefully.
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Coalition officials including the New York Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and the LGBT Network, a nonprofit advocacy group for LGBT people in Long Island and Queens, testified against the law before it was passed on August 2.
Proponents of extra protection for first responders say cases of harassment and violence against police officers have increased across the country over the past year.
The heads of the Nassau Police Charity Association, the Supervisors’ Association and the Correctional Officers Charity Association spoke out in favor of the legislation at the legislative session.
In her vetoed message on Tuesday, Curran said the “sobering advice” from James’ office was showing the law, “although it is well-intentioned, it leaves open the possibility that there is the right of citizens to peacefully assemble and express their views free to express would affect “.
Chris Boyle, a Republican spokesman, said in a statement: “The legislative majority stands firmly behind the prosecution and will continue to do everything possible to deter violence against them, deter attacks, threats and harassment against police officers and other first responders. The majority of legislators are currently discussing the next steps. “
Nassau PBA President James McDermott said he was “disappointed” with Curran’s veto. “In recent years, there has been a significant increase in incidents of first responders being threatened and harassed, and the county board has allied itself against lawmakers, police officers and others who put their jobs at risk,” said McDermott.
A lifting of Curran’s veto appears unlikely.
A 13-vote super majority would be required to overwrite. The bill passed the state parliament, which the Republicans control with a majority of 11 to 8, with 12 to 6 votes, with Legis. C. William Gaylor III (R-Lynbrook) is missing.
Two MPs from the Democratic Group voted in favor of the bill. One of them, Legis. Joshua Lafazan, an independent Woodbury MP who sits with the Democrats, said he would not support lifting the veto.
“The intent of this law has always been to protect the first responders who are protecting us here in Nassau,” said Lafazan. “As a lawmaker, of course, I respect the opinion of NY Attorney General Tish James. Therefore, I respect the county executive’s decision to veto this bill in accordance with AG guidelines and will not vote to override County Executive Curran.”
The district’s human rights law applies to people who have been discriminated against on the basis of their religion, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or their marital status.
In 2019, lawmakers extended protection against discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodation to veterans and first aiders.
Under the proposed law, the penalty for discriminating against first responders would be up to $ 25,000 per violation – five times more than people can charge under applicable human rights law – or up to $ 50,000 for violations “in the process of participating in a riot ”. “
Curran and all Nassau Counties are up for re-election this fall.
Republican Bruce Blakeman, a member of Hempstead City Council, challenges Curran as the county council.
Scott Eidler reports on Nassau County’s government and politics for Newsday. Scott has been with Newsday since 2012 and has previously provided local government and education.