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Mass protests erupt over Broome County first responders bill

BINGHAMTON (WBNG) — A controversial Broome County bill whose supporters say will help protect emergency first responders has not passed, but an amendment to the bill has.

The Broome County Emergency First Responders Protection Act was not passed by the county legislature Thursday night. The best attempts of a hundred protesters, who say the bill will be used to infringe upon their First Amendment rights was able to get the bill held over for now.

At the center of the controversy is the exact language of what now constitutes a misdemeanor, any behavior that “intends to annoy, alarm or threaten the personal safety of any emergency first responder”.

The legislative session was delayed by more than an hour after a large scale protest broke out in the legislature chambers, with people screaming down the meeting and forcing it to temporarily adjourn.

According to 12 News crews at the meeting, at least nine people were taken away, some in flex cuffs. There is no word yet on exactly how many people were arrested during the protest.

The legislator who helped draft and introduce the bill, Scott Baker, said the legislature was compelled by recent events

“Seeing the incidents in the news across the nation of harassment and assault against first responders, this just seemed to be a perfect fit for what we were looking to do,” Baker (Republican, 2nd District) said.

From the protesters’ point of view, this bill will be used to suppress any protests and clamp down on their free speech.

“Civil protest as we know is a cornerstone of democracy in this country,” said Sean Massey, former leader of the Binghamton Human Rights Commission and an associate professor at Binghamton University. “Civil protest is why we have suffrage, why we have the civil rights movement, in terms of unions, the gay rights movement.”

Baker declined to specify what “annoy, alarm or threaten the safety” meant in legal terms, or what behavior exactly would be classified as such.

Josh Rosenblatt

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