New York county executive vetoes bill to let police sue protesters
A New York county executive on Wednesday vetoed a local bill that would have allowed police officers and first responders to sue protesters who harass, attack or injure them because of their job.
Laura Curran, the executive of Nassau County, said she blocked the legislation because state Attorney General Letitia James (D) raised concerns that it could infringe on protesters’ First Amendment rights.
“The guidance provided by the New York State Attorney General raises issues about the constitutionality of the proposed law, which would inhibit residents’ rights to free speech and protest,” Curran wrote in a statement.
“The proposed bill is well-intentioned, but should not come at the costs of the basic First Amendment freedoms that we all enjoy as Americans,” she added.
The legislature in the Long Island county approved the bill last week in a 12-6 vote. It called for establishing first responders as a “protected class” under the county’s Human Rights Law, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, disability, gender, sexual orientation and other factors.
According to Newsday, no other professions are part of the Human Rights Law.
The bill would have also given the county attorney the authority to sue protesters for first responders who were requesting financial damages for “discrimination.”
Civil penalties could have been up to $25,000 for an “aggrieved” first responder and up to $50,000 if the violation occurred during a riot.
Curran did not preview her decision to veto the bill after it passed last week, instead saying she would reach out to James’s office to “review and provide some advice.”
She did, however, say she would “continue to stand against defunding the police,” adding that her administration is “committed to protecting the brave men and women of law enforcement who keep us safe.”
The bill’s passage elicited strong reactions from both sides. More than 200 people attended a public meeting at the legislative chambers to discuss the initiative.
Those opposed said it was a retaliation to Black Lives Matter protests against police misconduct, while supporters said the bill would create additional shields for officers who face “destructive riots and lawlessness” targeting law enforcement following the death of George Floyd, according to The Washington Post.
Chris Boyle, a spokesperson for the county legislature’s Republican majority, told NBC News that “majority legislators are currently discussing next steps.”
Nassau County in June was named the safest community in America by U.S. News & World Report.