Penn Yan approves funeral protection
PENN YAN—A local law has been adopted in Penn Yan that will prohibit the disruption of any funeral related event. A resolution was passed by the village board to approve the legislation during the regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
The enacted regulations make it illegal for any person to engage in picketing within 1,000 feet of any facility in Penn Yan being used for a funeral. Examples of sites listed in the law are cemeteries, burial plots, funeral homes, churches, synagogues, mosques and mortuaries. The period in which the legislation must be followed is during the funeral, along with the two hours preceding and commencing the event. According to the law, the reason for that timeframe is because along with wanting to preserve the privacy of grieving families, its intent is also to “protect the First Amendments rights of individuals by placing only restrictions that are reasonable as to time and location limitations.”
With regards to penalties, any person found guilty of breaking the funeral disruption law will receive a fine that would be no greater than $250. Violators could also potentially face up to 15 days of incarceration.
Prior to the board voting on the resolution, a public hearing was held to give residents a chance to offer their views on the legislation. Tim Yetter, a resident of Penn Yan, expressed his approval of the law and referred to the distance limit of 1,000 feet as being “wonderful.” Yetter also talked about his role with the Patriot Guard Riders of New York. The Patriot Guard Riders is a national organization whose objective is to shield funerals for military deaths from protestors.
According to Yetter, there are various ways in which the Patriot Guard Riders protect military funerals. He said one thing members do is form a line in front of where the service is taking place and hold up an American flag. Organization affiliates will also drone out the noise of any demonstrators who show up by doing things such as sounding motorcycles.
One point Yetter stressed was Patriot Guard Riders will only show up at a funeral if they are invited by the family in mourning. “We never go unless we’re asked,” he stated. Yetter explained that after a military death occurs, the officer in charge of that soldier’s service asks the family if they want the Patriot Guard present at the funeral. Yetter said he showed up with 125 members in Dundee for Christopher Scott’s funeral last September. Scott was an Army member who was killed serving in Afghanistan.
While the funeral law was approved, the village did receive a letter from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) expressing opposition to the legislation. Attorney Edward Brockman read the letter which stated the new regulations violate the First Amendment and that if approved, Penn Yan could face a lawsuit. The letter also mentioned the state already has a rule in place prohibiting any funeral picketing within 300 feet and that having a limit of 1,000 feet is excessive. Brockman said NYCLU claimed that after hearing of the village considering a law, the organization would have a member present for the public hearing. However, nobody from the group showed up. Brockman also noted there was no knowledge on what a possible lawsuit could entail.
According to KaeLyn Rich, the director of the NYCLU Genesee Valley Chapter (which covers Yates County), funeral picketing laws are usually established at the county level. Rich explained Monroe County established regulations that prohibit protesting within 1,000 feet of a funeral and Dutchess County adopted legislation with a 300 foot buffer zone. However, she did say Penn Yan was the first time she heard of a funeral disruption law being formed by a village in the state. Rich stressed the importance of preserving First Amendment rights and noted NYCLU opposes all forms of funeral legislation, even at the county level. “We live in a country where we uphold free speech regardless of the content,” she said. Rich also mentioned she has never heard of any funeral law that has a distance requirement exceed 1,000 feet.
Yetter suggested the board look into adding a clause to the legislation that would allow sites to access permits for any funerals. He said these permits would grant any facility the right to keep any demonstrators from getting within 1,000 feet of a funeral when it is taking place and during the two hours before and after it occurs. Yetter stated this could help the village in dealing with any legal matters on the issue. Upon hearing Yetter’s suggestion, Trustee Dave Reeve asked if a section on permits should be added to the law. Brockman responded by saying if there are any changes that need to be made, the board can vote on amending the regulations at a future meeting.
Trustee Richard Stewart asked about the possibility of petitioning Yates legislators to eventually make the law county-wide. Trustee Michael Christensen said it would be nice if the county legislature wants to follow what Penn Yan is doing, but the current focus should be on establishing legislation regarding funeral protesting for the village. “We might as well approve this now then great if the county wants to follow,” he said.
In other business:
• The board approved Bob North’s resignation from the Penn Yan Fire Department. North has been with the fire department for the last 64 years. Mayor Bob Church expressed his appreciation for North’s service to the village. “I want to thank you for all the amazing years,” he told North. Fire Chief Rick Simpson also chimed in on North’s dedication to the fire department. “I would just like to thank you for 64 years of service,” he stated. “If you needed to get something done, you did not need to be checked on because we new you would get that task done.”
• A resolution was passed to hold a public hearing on March 20 at 6 p.m. about changing the law regarding filing paperwork to repair sidewalks in the village. The deadline for submitting paperwork is March 15 though the board wants to vote on changing that date to Feb. 15 so any repairs could be factored into the village budget earlier on.
• The board approved $602,291.96 in total warrants paid over the last month.
• Christensen reported the fire department logged in 1,231.9 total hours in January.
• A resolution was approved to purchase a new fire truck and gear from Churchville Fire Equipment for $512,000.
• Deputy Mayor and Trustee William Allison mentioned that since it has been a “light winter,” there is a surplus of salt for roads that has not been used. Allison said this could result in substantial financial savings for the village if there a similar weather conditions for the remainder of winter. The village budgeted $24,000 for salt for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
• Stewart mentioned that due to Yates County not giving a $15,000 allocation for the summer recreation program, the village is contemplating closing Indian Pines Park for any summer activities.
• Church announced that department heads would be receiving packages with detail on the 2012-13 budget during the next regular meeting. The fiscal year for Penn Yan begins on June 1.
• A resolution was approved to give Ray Hamilton a $14,000 loan and $14,000 grant from the community revitalization fund for the repairing and painting of property at 217 Main St.
• The next regular meeting will be Tuesday, March 20 at 6 p.m.