After police officers at a protest in downtown Dallas were shot Thursday evening, two Florida legislators announced plans to file a “Blue Lives Matter” bill to add law enforcement officers and first responders to the state’s hate crime bill.
The Dallas police officers were patrolling a Black Lives Matter protest that had been peaceful until a sniper in an elevated position in a parking garage began firing at the officers in what appears to be a well-planned attack. Four officers with the Dallas Police Department and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) officer were killed, and seven DPD officers and two civilians were wounded, as reported by the Dallas Morning News.
State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), who is running for the District 12 State Senate seat, and State Rep. Neil Combee (R-Lakeland), running for re-election to his seat, announced via press releases on Friday that they intended to file bills for the upcoming 2017 legislative session to amend Florida’s hate crime law to add law enforcement officers and first responders to the protected categories. Baxley and Combee have discussed the bill and intend to work together to file companion bills in the State Senate and House, respectively, after the elections in November.
Currently, Florida Statute section 775.085 reclassifies crimes to a more severe level if the perpetrator “evidences prejudice based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age of the victim.” The law also allows for civil actions for a person or organization that “has been coerced, intimidated, or threatened in violation of this section.”
Baxley’s press release called the shooting in Dallas “absolutely despicable” and said that it had “harden[ed] my resolve to fight the dangerous and growing disdain for law enforcement that is seeping into our culture.”
In a phone interview with The Capitolist, Baxley said that he had already been considering filing such a bill and had been researching a similar bill that passed in Louisiana and is set to take effect on August 1. The events in Dallas were “a clear stimulus to move forward,” he explained.
“I’m hoping that this Blue Lives Matter bill will catch on with many legislators around the country,” he said. “It’s very important for the issues of life and liberty, and standing by our law enforcement officers is essential.”
“If they’re not safe, none of us are safe,” added Baxley.
Baxley is running for the State Senate, and vowed “this will be the first bill I file” if he is elected. Bill filing will officially begin after the November elections, and in the meantime, he and Combee intend to work to build momentum and support for the bill.
Combee similarly was supportive of the idea after hearing of the Louisiana bill and discussing it with Baxley, and was motivated to act after the shootings in Dallas. “This is a simple issue,” said Combee in a press release obtained by The Capitolist. “Those who protect us deserve protection. When they leave their families to keep ours safe, they should know we appreciate the dedication and the sacrifice.”
In a phone interview Friday afternoon, Combee said that he was “concerned about people openly calling for the killing of police officers.” At least one of the Dallas shooters had reportedly told police that his stated goal was to kill white police officers, and had liked groups on Facebook that promoted violence against police.
Combee’s staff is currently studying the Louisiana bill and making recommendations, and he said that the intention is to amend Section 775.085 to include law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and other first responders. There are many sworn law enforcement officers who work to protect public safety besides just the local police departments, said Combee, and this bill would include officers like those with Florida Fish and Wildlife Services, university police departments, and transit authority officers, like the DART officer who was killed in Dallas.
Killing a police officer is already a capital offense in Florida, subject to the death penalty, so there is not any way to enhance the penalty for that crime. However, this bill would allow increased penalties for those who target police officers for physical assaults, conspire with others to assault officers, and other related crimes.
“It’s time for some of us to step up and say enough is enough,” Combee told The Capitolist. He and Baxley are currently seeking co-sponsors for their bill and plan to cooperate on the drafting to submit identical bills in both chambers of the legislature.
Photo credit: Dallas Police Department via Facebook.
This post has been updated.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.