The Nassau County Legislature approved a bill Monday to protect cops and other first-responders under a county law meant to shield marginalized people from discrimination.
After an eight-hour public meeting on Monday, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed the bill with a vote of 12-6. The legislation, if signed into law by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, would include first-responder groups with minority groups discriminated against for their race, religion or sexual orientation.
Curran touted the work of the county’s law enforcement and first responders but requested that the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James review the bill prior to any decision on whether to sign it into law or not.
“There were many speakers today who questioned this legislation,” Curran said in a statement on Monday. “Now that it has been passed by the Legislature, I will be making an inquiry to the Attorney General’s Office to review and provide some advice.”
Curran, in the letter to James’ office, asked officials to help determine, “whether the law strikes the proper legal balance between the government’s responsibility to protect its uniformed personnel and its duty not to interfere with the ability of the people to exercise their civil rights legally without fear of penalty.”
Officials said the county could also file lawsuits on behalf of first-responders seeking financial damages for “discrimination” if the bill is signed into law. The county would also be allowed to penalize alleged offenders with a fine of up to $25,000 in civil penalties and $50,000 if the alleged incident occurred during a riot, officials said.
“The police are essential to protect citizens’ freedom to speak, or refrain from speaking, from individuals who would use threats and violence to silence those with whom they disagree or to enforce conformity of thought,” the bill states.
Nassau Police Benevolent Association President James McDermott told Newsday that the members of his group, “applaud the Nassau County legislature who continue to stand up for law and order and support our police during this unprecedented time.”
Efforts to reach McDermott or a representative from the association for further comment were unavailing.
U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said the bill “violates the spirit of the county’s human rights law” and questioned the legislation’s legality.
“I support policies to protect our police officers and other first responders,” Rice said in a statement Wednesday. “But it is wrong to codify into law a chosen profession as an immutable human trait in the same manner we classify race, nationality, gender, disability, and sexual orientation.”
Those in opposition to the bill argued there was a lack of sufficient data on discrimination or harassment against the police and other first-responders throughout the county on Monday.
The Long Island Advocates for Police Accountability group urged Curran to veto the “unconstitutional legislation” in a statement following the bill’s passage.
“The community has spoken — and was ignored once again,” the statement read. “This bill is dangerous, unnecessary, does nothing to protect our police officers, and is a slap in the face to marginalized communities that have faced discrimination.”
Shanequa Levin of Long Island United to Transform Policing & Community Safety said she applauded the police officers that serve the community properly and acknowledged that police are needed throughout all communities. Levin then said that there is bias throughout policing and that residents must stand up for themselves when those instances occur.
“You’re going to vote on a bill that basically takes away our rights to stand up for ourselves when those that do not do a good job can be rewarded or can retaliate against us,” Levin said.
“Turning [police] into a protected class is what this law intends to do,” civil-rights attorney Frederick Brewington said in a press conference prior to the vote on Monday. “Turning them into a situation where they have greater significance in our society than the people that have been subjected to abuse, horrific violence, and this treatment by the law and the system.”