The Nassau County, New York, legislature will vote on a bill Monday that would allow all first responders, including police officers, to sue protesters and seek damages of up to $50,000.
If the bill passes, first responders would be able to sue individuals they believe harassed, injured, menaced or assaulted them due to their status as a first responder or while they were in uniform. It also would allow officers and first responders to collect compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.
The County Attorney would serve as a lawyer for first responders, and individuals could be subject to a civil penalty of no more than $25,000 per violation to the “aggrieved” first responder, according to the bill. If the violation occurs during a “riot,” the bill states the penalty can go up to $50,000.
In May 2019, the county passed legislation to include first responders under its Human Rights Law, prohibiting discrimination against them.
“Protecting our first responders must always be a top priority, especially in the aftermath of the January 6th attack on the Capitol,” County Spokesperson Christine Geed told CNN in a statement Sunday.
“There is no justification for violence against first responders,” bill author and Nassau County Legislator Joshua A. Lafazan told CNN in a statement Sunday, “These bills will add further protections in law to protect Nassau County’s first responders, as they protect us.”
Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe told CNN she opposes the bill and will vote against it.
She said her concern is, if the bill is legalized, its overly broad range of proposed offenses against officers could have a chilling effect on peaceful protests and the exercise of free speech.
“Human rights laws are designed to protect people who have been historically discriminated against because of unchangeable personal characteristics such as the color of their skin,” Bynoe explained.
“No individual who voluntarily chooses a profession should be included in such a framework — let alone be exempt from proving they were intentionally subjected to a discriminatory act just because they were wearing a uniform at the time of the encounter,” she added.
Groups such as the Long Island Advocates for Police Accountability are urging legislators to vote against the bill.
“This bill would hijack the Human Rights Law and penalize ‘discrimination’ against a police officer more harshly than ‘discrimination’ against groups that have historically faced persecution and discrimination in our country,” a statement issued by the group Friday said. “This misguided legislation … is a backlash to calls for meaningful police reform, undermines efforts to improve police-community relations, does nothing to improve safety for police officers, and come at the expense of our democracy,” the statement continues.
But County Legislator Lafazan said criticism that the bill targets a specific race or political ideology is “outrageous.”
“This bill, by protecting our first responders, helps guarantee every citizen’s fundamental right to freedom of speech without violence or intimidation,” he said.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder echoed Lafazan’s sentiments in a statement Sunday, saying, “The protections of our first responders, residents and communities must always be a priority.”
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.