ALBANY — The State Legislature on Thursday banned political banners, T-shirts, hats, flags and other promotions that support a political candidate from government buildings, including volunteer fire companies.
The bill specifically includes municipal workers “whether paid or unpaid” and “members of any volunteer fire department which is part of a such a municipality.”
The Assembly passed it along party lines Thursday afternoon. The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. James Skoufis (D-Woodbury) had passed Tuesday.
Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) said the measure she sponsored is meant to ban all promotions or ads for any candidate, but Republicans said in a floor debate that they believe the bill is clearly targeted to displays by supporters of former Republican President Donald Trump.
In 2016, the New York City Fire Department banned images of Trump in the firehouse and on fire trucks after complaints about the display of Trump’s image.
No criminal or civil sanctions are included in the bill. The measure, if signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul, would amend the state’s “general municipal law and the public buildings law,” not the penal law.
“The invaluable services of municipal officers and employees must remain apolitical to ensure that every New Yorker has access to vital services and feels welcome receiving them,” the bill states. “Displaying political advertisements for specific candidates or parties — including posters or stickers, in municipal spaces, on municipal vehicles, or on a municipal officer's clothing — can lead the public to believe that a particular municipal department is endorsing a candidate for office … and can cause unnecessary conflict in the workplace.”
Solages said she was motivated by seeing a Trump 2024 banner on a fire engine on Long Island.
But she noted that the ban is only against ads and promotions of candidates on government property or by government workers while on the job. “Government employees will have the right to free speech as private citizens,” she said.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) said the bill mirrors the rules for legislators and she believes professional and volunteer firefighters will accept the measure.
“They work hard, very hard, and they do things that most people don’t do,” she said. “Once it’s explained to them … I don’t think it will present a problem … this is a rule that is going to protect the public’s interest.”
Assemb. Marjorie Byrnes (R-Caledonia) argued that volunteer fire companies aren’t public entities and don’t receive taxpayer dollars, but rather rely solely on their fundraisers, so they shouldn’t be bound by the bill.
“That should take care of a lot of the volunteer fire departments,” she said.
Solages said the bill will apply to any fire company that receives public funding. Volunteer fire companies receive funding from property taxes and from contracts with municipalities, according to a report by the state comptroller’s office. The state budget adopted May 1 also included $30 million for volunteer fire companies for equipment and training.
"The Firefighters Association of the State of New York always encourages our members to comply with all state and local laws and should this bill be signed by the Governor, we would advise our members to comply with the new law," according to Robert Leonard, spokesman for the association.
The New York Conference of Mayors didn’t take a position on the bill and had no comment.