Officials from the Nassau County Police Community Oversight Task Force called on Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) and the rest of the County Legislature not to override County Executive Laura Curran’s veto of a bill that would allow police and other first responders to file a civil lawsuit against those who discriminated against them.
Task force Chairman Jovanni Ortiz, in an email to Nicolello on Tuesday, said he was made aware of a possible override attempt and urged the Legislature not to carry one out. Ortiz said the move would be “unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money.”
“Along with hundreds of local community leaders, activists, and neighbors, I ask that you and your colleagues do not attempt to override the County Executive’s veto of this bill,” the letter said.
Efforts to reach the Republican majority in the Legislature or Nicolello for comment on the letter were unavailing. Thirteen votes in the 19-member Legislature would be required to override the veto.
The bill, which was approved by the County Legislature 12-6 two weeks ago, would have allowed first responders such as police officers to sue people for civil damages in cases of harassment, menacing, assault or injury.
In a veto letter last week, Curran expressed concern “that the law would intimidate free citizens from engaging in peaceful demonstrations without fear of retaliation.” She also said there was “no consensus from elected officials” that the legislation was necessary at this time.
Curran, a Democrat, also referred to the opinion of the office of state Attorney General Letitia James, whom the county executive asked for advice on the bill. Curran said James’ office questioned the bill’s constitutionality.
Ortiz, in the letter, said that the task force respected the guidance from James’ office and that the bill, if made a law, would have a negative impact.
“The Attorney General, our state’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, has made it clear: this bill is flawed and would likely result in negative consequences,” the letter said.
First responders would be able to sue protesters or other civilians for up to $25,000 for such actions, or $50,000 during a riot, according to the legislation. Police officers and other first responders are already protected in the Nassau County Human Rights Law against housing, employment and public accommodations discrimination.
“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.
Several weeks ago, advocates and passionate Long Island residents attended a rally on Friday outside the Nassau County legislative building in Mineola to voice their opinions on how the bill would impact their communities.
Nia Adams, an organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition and co-organizer of the rally, said, “It is not only a redundant bill, but it is disgusting. It equates a career to the lived experiences of Black and brown folks – of race, of gender, of sex, of religion, and it’s unacceptable.”
Protesters questioned the bill’s necessity. Nassau County was named the safest county in the United States by U.S. News & World, and Adams pointed to this report at the rally. “What harassment and hate did you see last year?” Adams said, “None [for police officers] to be worried about. However, this is the same county where Akbar Rogers was brutalized by the Freeport Village police, and they’re still working.”