VESTAL, NY (WSKG) – Broome County Executive Jason Garnar has signed a bill into law meant to protect emergency first responders, but opponents worry it’s ripe for abuse.
The Emergency First Responders Protection Act of 2019, which passed in December, allows law enforcement to arrest anyone who harasses emergency first responders.
An earlier version led to a mass protest and arrests at November’s Broome County legislative meeting. Opponents worried it would allow police to arrest anyone they consider annoying. Specifically, they worried about the effect on minority groups. In recent years, there have been incidents in Binghamton between law enforcement and people of color.
Broome County Legislative Chair Dan Reynolds, who helped author the measure, said that concern was corrected by an amendment passed in November.
Even though the full resolution then passed at the body’s December meeting, it split the Broome Legislature along party lines. Republicans have a majority on the legislature and supported the measure. They said it just codifies protections already written into state law.
If these protections already exist, Democratic opponents wondered why this legislation is needed. “We want to preserve and protect our first responders. We want that to happen, but we cannot do that and nibble away at the constitutionality,” Legislator Bob Weslar said at the time. “And that’s what we’re seeming to try to do.”
After signing the measure, Garnar, who’s a Democrat, said it’s important every step is taken to protect first responders. “Our law enforcement officials and emergency first responders play a critical role in protecting the people of Broome County and provide an invaluable service to our community,” he said. He made no comment about concerns over the measure.
Garnar’s office said a public hearing was held on the proposal on January 2nd.
A similar law was enacted last month in Monroe County.