Nassau County Executive Laura Curran vetoed a bill that would have allowed police officers to sue individuals for harassment or injury and cost them up to $50,000 in civil fines if they injure a cop during a protest.
After the Nassau County Legislature passed the bill in a 12-6 vote last week, the proposed legislation went to Curran’s desk for a signature. However, due to strong community opposition to the bill, with many residents calling it unconstitutional, Curran sought advice from New York State Attorney General Letitia James, she said.
“The guidance provided by [James] raises issues about the constitutionality of the proposed law, which would inhibit residents’ rights to free speech and protest,” Curran said 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.”
In the statement, she added that she is “proud of the dedicated first responders who’ve made Nassau the safest county in America” and will “stand firmly with the brave men and women of law enforcement, and against any efforts to ‘defund the police.’”
The bill, sponsored by Leg. Josh Lafazan (I-Syosset), would have amended Nassau’s human rights law, which since 2019 has included first responders as a “protected class.” The new legislation would have increased protections for law enforcement officers in light of recent nationwide protests against police brutality by increasing punitive measures for individuals who assault, harass or injure someone based on the fact that they are a police officer. The proposed law applied to other first responders, such as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and firefighters, as well.
Lafazan said he will not vote to override Curran’s veto on the bill and expressed respect for James’ guidance.
“The intent of this bill was always to protect those first responders who protect us here in Nassau,” he said. “Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with community leaders regarding their concerns over the bill. My hope is to now continue conversations with the community and our first responders to ensure Nassau remains both a safe and a fair county for us all.”
During a five-hour public hearing, dozens of constituents voiced strong opposition to the bill on the grounds that violent protests are not a problem in Nassau and the bill would strip residents of their First Amendment right to protest by instilling fear of being sued. Opponents also argued the bill unjustly places police officers on par with marginalized groups who are protected by human rights laws.
Members of Long Island Advocates For Police Accountability released a statement praising the squashing of the bill.
“Congratulations to every single individual who urged the county executive and the attorney general to oppose this bill,” the statement says. “It is abundantly clear that grassroots organizing and community engagement are our most powerful tools as constituents.”
Chris Boyle, a spokesman for the Nassau County Republican Legislative Majority, who voted in favor of the bill, said legislators are “discussing next steps” to ensure first responders are protected.
“The Legislative Majority stands firmly behind members of law enforcement and will continue to do everything they can to deter violence against them,” Boyle said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that the county executive has vetoed this bill that would help to deter the assault, menacing, and harassment of police officers and other first responders.”