NY State Political Banner, Hate Symbol Ban Heads To Assembly

Originally published in Patch on June 01, 2021.

A vote is expected soon to prohibit campaign materials and Confederate flags on government, police, fire, and ambulance company properties.

ALBANY, NY — A bill banning the display of hate symbols and political banners on public properties like firehouses, ambulance companies, police stations, and other taxpayer-funded facilities has passed the New York State Senate and moves on next to the Assembly where it is ,>expected to face a vote by the end of the session.

The legislation was spurred on after the display of a Confederate flag on a fire truck in Brookhaven in Suffolk County last year. In other incidents, a Confederate flag was hung inside a Levittown Fire Station along next to a "Don't tread on me," flag. The flags were later replaced by an American flag, as well as one showing support for former President Donald Trump's 2020 campaign.

Bill sponsor Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) said hatred and hate-fueled violence has exploded across the country over the last year, noting "it will take everyone working together" to speak with one voice to show "hate has no place in our community, and we will fight back against it every step of the way."

"Public property belongs to all of us, and this measure is critical to ensure that our public property isn't used to promote hatred," said Kaplan.

If passed by the Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the legislation would prohibit public employees, as well as unpaid volunteers who donate their time, from displaying symbols of hate such as Confederate flags or swastikas, as well as political campaign materials of any kind, on taxpayer-funded government property and apparatus.

The ban would include any facility owned by towns, villages, fire, police, and ambulance companies that are funded by taxpayer dollars. It would also include outdoor structures such as flag poles and monuments, vehicles, as well as employee/volunteer uniforms.

It would expand existing legislation banning the sale of hate symbols on government property and would strengthen other loosely enforced ethics laws prohibiting the use of public property to promote a political campaign or candidate.

Kaplan said she is proud to help pass "this vital piece of legislation" and looks forward to Assemb. Michaelle Solages picking up the legislation in the Assembly "soon so that it can be signed into law this year."

"It's simply too important, and we can't wait any longer to get it done," she added.

Solanges, a Democrat from Elmont, said "hate-inspired symbols will never be tolerated" in New York, and she is proud to partner with Kaplan to ensure "all municipal corporations adhere to that very sentiment."

"Now more than ever, it is imperative that New York State stands firm and consistent in our commitment to denouncing hate, bigotry, and intolerance in all its forms," she added.

The legislation proposing the ban was introduced in February.

In a widely reported incident last August, the Brookhaven Fire Department took some heat after a member displayed a Confederate flag on a fire truck during a parade for a sick Patchogue firefighter. The members later resigned, the department's attorney, Joseph Frank, told Patch back in February.

The Board of Fire Commissioners fully support the legislation and fire district, as well as department leaders "embrace the diversity of our community and support efforts to make the fire service and our society more inclusive," Frank said.

The department was working alongside the Suffolk County Division of Human Rights on a sensitivity training program so all members "understand the concepts behind why certain objects are considered symbols of hate and have no place in fire departments and other governmental entities," Frank said.

A Confederate flag hung inside a room at the Levittown Fire Department next to a "Don't tread on me" flag up until about 2018, Kaplan's office said. The department's drill team nickname was the Rebels and featured a bearded man wearing a gray Civil War uniform and holding a Confederate flag, Newsday reported. In an interview last year, Chief Al Williams told the outlet that the symbols were removed.

The Levittown Fire Department did not comment at the time the legislation was introduced.