Louisiana Poised To Expand Hate-Crime Law To Protect Police

Officers investigate the scene of a shooting in Baton Rouge, La., in February. (AP)
Officers investigate the scene of a shooting in Baton Rouge, La., in February. (AP)

It's a first for the so-called Blue Lives Matter movement: The Louisiana Legislature has passed a bill that expands hate-crime laws to include protections for police and other first responders.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who comes from a family of sheriffs, is expected to sign the bill into law.

"The legislation allows Louisiana prosecutors to seek stiffer penalties against people convicted of intentionally targeting police officers, firefighters or emergency medical crews," NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

Debbie notes that the measure passed easily in both the state House and Senate.

A former East Baton Rouge parish attorney told NBC that the bill was unnecessary.

"As a former prosecutor I know for a fact that battery of a police officer is already covered by other laws here in Louisiana," Terrel Kent told NBCBLK. "To include essential peace officers, sheriffs, law enforcement officials or first responders is a slap in the face to protected classes."

Protected classes in the state's current hate-crime legislation are: race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry and organizational affiliation.

The Anti-Defamation League, an advocate for hate-crime laws, opposes the Louisiana legislation. In a statement earlier this month, the organization said hate-crime laws "should remain limited to immutable characteristic, those qualities that can or should not be changed." The group also said it was concerned the addition in Louisiana would "open the door" to other categories being worked into such laws.

Rep. Lance Harris, who introduced the bill, told CNN, "If you're going to have an extensive hate crime statute then we need to protect those that are out there protecting us on a daily basis."

Blue Lives Matter, which advocates for law enforcement, is a response to Black Lives Matter — a movement critical of policing in minority communities.

The Louisiana bill followed the fatal shooting of Texas Sheriff Deputy Darren Goforth in August. Goforth's death stoked fears of increased attacks against law enforcement. Harris has cited threats against law enforcement as justification for his bill.

But, as NPR's Martin Kaste reported in September, national crime statistics actually show a downward trend in recent years of officers killed in the line of duty.

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