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Louisiana may be the first state to do something many hope will become a nationwide trend. It’s expanding its hate-crime laws to include police officers, firefighters and emergency medical crews.
Existing laws in the state provide for stiffer penalties if an individual or group is targeted because of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or affiliation with certain organizations, The Associated Press reported.
If signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, first responders would be added to the list.
The bill was unanimously passed in the state House, and received overwhelming support in the Senate.
Given that Edwards’ grandfather, father and brother have served as county sheriffs he is expected to sign the measure into law.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that lawmakers in five other states have introduced legislation that would expand their hate-crime laws to include law enforcement officers, but each of those attempts have failed.
Although the bill enjoyed popular support in the legislature, it nonetheless has its critics who claim its unnecessary because those convicted of assaulting police officers already facer stiffer penalties in many states — including Louisiana.
One of those critics is Allison Padilla-Goodman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, who said that crimes against public-safety officials are being “investigated and prosecuted vigorously under current Louisiana law.”
Padilla-Goodman also feels that the bill could weaken current hate-crime laws and has requested that the governor veto the legislation.
The AP reported:
She said Louisiana law-enforcement agencies underuse the current law and underreport hate crimes. FBI statistics show only six of the state’s 86 departments reported any hate crimes in 2014, the most recent data available.
Nine hate crimes were reported statewide in 2014. States of comparable sizes show numbers ten times that.
Padilla-Goodman also believes that expanding the state’s hate-crime laws could lead to confusion.
“So now will they think they should only report crimes against police?” she asked. “Will they be confused about the purpose of hate-crime laws?”
Along with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement came a spike in the murder of police officers, including the ambush killing of a Houston deputy sheriff who was shot 15 times.
“This gives more of a deterrent for people just to pick out a law officer because he’s a law officer and attack him,” state Rep. Lance Harris said.
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