Mineola, NY – The Nassau County legislature is considering whether to make first responders a protected class so they could sue protesters and collect damages.
The bill under consideration on Monday would make police officers and other first responders a protected class under the Nassau County Human Rights Law, Newsday reported.
There is also a second piece of legislation under consideration that would make it illegal to deny first responders service at a business, according to the Levittown Patch.
Under the new law, businesses who refuse to serve a first responder would face a civil penalty of $1,000.
The proposed law would make it a hate crime to “harass, menace, assault or injure” any first responder, the Levittown Patch reported.
And if that first responder is in uniform, the law says there is an “irrebuttable presumption” that they were targeted because of their profession.
Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan introduced the bill in June in response to the Black Lives Matter protests last year and said “the recent widespread pattern of physical attacks and intimidation directed at police has undermined the rule of law and put all of our civil liberties in danger,” according to the Levittown Patch.
“As legislators, we have determined that there is urgent need to enhance the legal protections afforded to our law enforcement personnel and other first responders under the Nassau County human rights law,” Lafazan said.
Under the proposed law, first responders could sue for damages, punitive damages, and legal fees, the Levittown Patch reported.
If the officer was responding to a riot when the incident occurred, the payout would be triple, according to the proposed legislation.
And if a first responder doesn’t want to pursue legal action, the law directs the county attorney to sue on their behalf, according to the Levittown Patch.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has not said where she stands on making first responders a protected class.
“Prior legislation protecting first responders was passed unanimously by the County Legislature in 2019,” Curran’s spokeswoman, Christine Geed, told the Levittown Patch. “Protecting our first responders must always be a top priority, especially in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.”
“We look forward to hearing the public comment and discussion at the Legislature meeting on Monday… We will review any potential amendments that may be proposed by the Legislature,” the county executive said.
Civil rights groups strongly opposed the bill and said it was payback for the George Floyd riots, the Levittown Patch reported.
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) said the bill conflated a chosen profession with being a member of a protected group, such as a racial or religious minority, or a member of the LGBTQ community.
NYCLU said first responders were already protected by the law and there were already stiff penalties for crimes committed against them, the Levittown Patch reported.
The “irrebuttable presumption” clause in the proposed law is “flatly unconstitutional,” and made it impossible for people accused of targeting first responders to defend themselves, according to the group.
NYCLU also complained the law gave first responders more rights than the citizens they’re serving and protecting, the Levittown Patch reported.
“In addition to enhanced criminal penalties, the bill would allow any first responder injured by an alleged act of bias to recover actual damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and [triple] damages if the injury occurred during a riot (which the bill does not define),” the group wrote in a memo that opposed the proposed law. “As with the irrebuttable presumption (which would also apply to civil actions brought under this law), this is more than either New York law or the Nassau County Code allows ordinary civilians who suffer hate crimes.”
“To put a fine point on it, a Jewish person assaulted by neo-Nazis or a black person beaten by the KKK on the streets of Nassau County has fewer rights under the Nassau County Administrative Code than a police officer who suffers a minor injury while arresting a protester at a Black Lives Matter demonstration,” the NYCLU complained.