A local law designed to protect first responders is sparking protests in the Southern Tier.
The Broome County legislature is tabling making it illegal to harass EMS workers, law enforcement officers and firefighters. Protesters interrupted Thursday’s legislature meeting. They delayed the proceedings for about an hour and six people were arrested, security said.
Lawmakers held the "Emergency First Responders Protection Act of 2019" over until the December session of the legislature. The bill would make harassing law enforcement, firefighters, EMS personnel or auxiliary officers a misdemeanor.
"In the times where we actually need people to help us, that's when you want first responders to be able to act unimpeded —whether they are providing emergency care, whether they are a firefighter trying to get into a building — you don't want anybody obstructing them from doing their job," said Dan Reynolds, Broome County Legislature Chairman.
The bill would make it illegal to intentionally annoy, alarm, or threaten the safety of a first responder. Some neighbors are outraged. They say it violates the First Amendment.
"Think about interacting with police officers and how it can be constructed as annoying,” said Andrew Pragacz, the co-founder of Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier. “A kid in school talks back to an SRO. You get pulled over by a police officer and you go, 'why'd you stop me?' That's annoying."
The bill comes after the Columbus Day Parade, where four people were arrested for disorderly conduct. They blocked the parade route to protest conditions in the jail.
"Being annoying is not illegal,” said Pragacz. “They're trying to make being annoying illegal and they are trying to criminalize our protests. And criminalizing the actions we've been doing for the last four years."
A similar bill has been in the works in Monroe County. The NYCLU is threatening a lawsuit there. Some local lawmakers want to let the situation in Monroe County play out before enacting the law in Broome County.
CORRECTION: This story has been amended. It initially reported that the bill passed the legislature. It was actually held over until the December session.