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Bellone to withdraw proposed public events law amid protests

Murrell Morgon, of Brooklyn, was one of many

Murrell Morgon, of Brooklyn, was one of many who addressed the Suffolk County Legislature to voice opposition to a bill that would impose restrictions and a fee on groups wishing to protest in Suffolk County, in Hauppauge, March 28, 2017. Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s administration will withdraw a proposed law that would have charged a fee and required a permit to hold public events — including parades and protests — that some activists said violated their constitutional rights.

The proposal required 60 days’ notice to get a permit for public assemblies and charged fees between $200 and $1,000 for events.

Fines for not getting a permit would have been $250, plus the actual cost of officers, which can be more than $900 per officer for an overtime shift.

Fifteen speakers opposed the bill Tuesday.

“This is a canard. This is to shut us up. It has nothing to do with public safety,” said Ruth A. Cohen, 78, of Lake Grove, who has protested since the election on behalf of Medicaid and gainst Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) for not holding a town-hall meeting.

She told lawmakers she was the lone protester outside a Zeldin breakfast event in Ronkonkoma in February, but was surrounded by police.

Union organizers also opposed the bill, saying it would limit their activity.

“This bill bans any form of spontaneous protest,” said Michael Gendron, political coordinator of Communications Workers of America Local 1108 in Patchogue. “The bill as written puts my members and locals in jeopardy of being fined for walking a picket line.”

Bellone said late Tuesday the bill would be withdrawn. “The intent of the bill was to protect taxpayers from being forced to pay for police services for for-profit events,” he said in a statement. “The proposed bill does not make clear the spirit and intent of the law.”

As currently written, the bill’s legislative intent reads: “The purpose of this law is to require all promoters and organizers of public events, parades and assemblies to apply for a special event permit to the Suffolk County Police Department.”

While the bill exempts 501(c)(3) not-for-profit groups, it does not exempt other nonprofits, labor unions or any of the less formal political groups that have popped up since the election.

County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter would not say whether a new version of the bill to target for profit events would be resubmitted.

Progressives said the bill was unconstitutional.

“If the intent was to get festivals and 5k races, the way it is written it’s the completely wrong bill,” said Dan Fingas, organizing director for the Long Island Progressive Coalition, which is a 501(c)4 advocacy group.

Cindy Morris, a Stony Brook resident who founded the group Time2Care Long Island after the election, said the bill was “ludicrous.” Trump was inaugurated 68 days ago, she noted.

“If this bill were in fact approved as is, we would just this week be able to protest the inauguration,” she said.

Lawmakers from both parties said they opposed the legislation.

“There is little — possibly zero — support for this,” Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said. “It’s a situation of not recognizing the unintended consequences.”


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