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(Update) Louisville Lawmaker Introduces ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Bill

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A state representative from Louisville is filing a bill to make it a hate crime to target police, firefighters or emergency personnel in Kentucky.

Republican Kevin Bratcher calls his legislation “Blue Lives Matter” — a response to the nationwide “Black Lives Matter” protests against police brutality toward African-Americans.

The House bill would make public safety workers a protected class under hate-crime law.

Killing a police officer or firefighter is a capital offense in Kentucky. Bratcher said the bill’s objective is to increase the protection of emergency responders by increasing the severity of the punishment for the crime.

“Emergency responders dedicate their lives to serve and protect, and it is our responsibility to ensure their well-being to the best of our ability,” Bratcher said. “As a former member of the United States Navy, I am able to recognize the difficulty of performing the duties of a life of a public servant and can greatly appreciate their dedication to the commonwealth.”

A statement released by the Kentucky House Republican caucus in late June says the bill was a response to recent officer fatalities in Louisiana and Kentucky.

According to preliminary statistics released by the FBI in May, 41 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2015, a decrease of almost 20 percent from 2014, when 51 officers were killed in 2014.

The bill reads:

Amend KRS 532.031, relating to an offense committed as a result of a hate crime, to include offenses committed against an individual because of the individual’s actual or perceived employment as a city, county, state, or federal peace officer, member of an organized fire department, emergency medical services personnel; provide that “emergency medical services personnel” is defined as in KRS 311A.010; enumerate that members of an organized fire department or emergency medical services personnel includes volunteer members if the violation occurs while the volunteer is performing duties with an organized fire department or emergency medical services personnel.

Amber Duke, communications director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said Bratcher’s bill was a “distraction” from over-policing of minority neighborhoods.

“Rather than focusing on how to address a non-existent problem, we need to focus on addressing the very real, very pressing problem of how poor communities and communities of color are targeted by biased policing,” she said. “There are laws that essentially protect police from being held accountable when they act improperly. So we think that that’s the more important conversation that we should be having.”

The state legislature could consider the bill when it convenes in January.

Bratcher’s bill is based on similar legislation that was signed into law in Louisiana last month. He refiled the bill on Wednesday, after pulling an earlier version due to a drafting error that excluded firefighters, according to a spokesperson for the House GOP caucus.

If the legislation is approved, Kentucky would become just the second state in the country where public safety workers are considered a protected class under hate-crime laws.

This story has been updated.

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition. He is a broadcast journalism graduate of WKU, and has won numerous awards for his reporting and feature production. Kevin grew up in Radcliff, Kentucky and currently lives in Glasgow.
Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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