GLENVILLE — The Glenville Town Board voted last week to support bills proposed in the state Senate and Assembly that would protect the private information of first-responders who respond to crime scenes and are potential witnesses in a criminal trial.
The board unanimously backed bills sponsored by state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, that would extend to first-responders the same privacy protections that police officers have during the criminal evidence discovery process — meaning their home addresses and personal contact couldn’t be available to defense attorneys ahead of trial.
The potential concerns about privacy have been heightened by the new requirements of the state’s new criminal justice reform law. One of the law’s requirements is that prosecutors turn over available discovery material — including, for example, statements made by first-responders, and their contact information — within 15 days after a criminal defendant’s arraignment. In the past, that information often didn’t become available to the defense until the trial.
Tedisco contends that requirement raises concerns that first-responders who are potential witnesses could be threatened or intimated, because defendants could get access to their contact information. Last month, the Clifton Park Town Board became the first local government in the region to back Tedisco’s proposal, which he filed as a bill in January.
“We go out into the night and help people on their worst day. I would like to think this is an unintended consequence of the new law,” said Councilwoman Gins Wierzbowski, who is herself a medical first-responder.
The proposed law would extend privacy protections to members of ambulance or advanced life support services, certified first-responders, firefighters, emergency medical technicians or advanced emergency medical technicians, who are either employed by or enrolled members of any such service, according to a bill description.
The prospects for the Tedisco-Stec legislation are unclear. The new law has been widely criticized for its bail reform measures and for eliminating judicial discretion over bail decisions, but so far the Democrat-controlled state Assembly has shown little interest in making any modifications to the law, despite pressure from Republican legislators, law enforcement officials, and others.