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May 23, 2016

Louisiana set to become first to pass 'Blue Lives Matter' hate crimes law

Louisiana appears set to enact a bill that would expand the definition of a hate crime to include targeting police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel.

House Bill 953, known as the "Blue Lives Matter" bill, was approved by both houses of the state legislature and is currently awaiting Governor John Bel Edwards' signature.

State Representative Lance Harris, who authored the bill, says Louisiana would be the first state to such a bill.

Typically, hate crimes cover acts, usually violent, that are motivated by prejudice. The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

Louisiana's bill would be the first to include crimes against members of a specific occupation.

Former police Lt. Randy Sutton of Las Vegas, a 34-year police veteran and spokesman for Blue Lives Matter, told CNN the bill is "important because symbolically it advises that there is a value to the lives of police officers. When you give value, it acts as a deterrent in one sense, but it also is a tool to add extra punishment for the assaults and the crimes against them."

Critics of HB953 believe the bill hinders the public's First Amendment rights to hold police officers accountable for their actions.

The New Orleans Chapter of the Black Youth Project 100 released a statement, criticizing the bill:

"By treating the police as specialized citizens held above criticism and the laws they are charged to enforce, we lose our ability to exercise our First Amendment right. Including “police” as a protected class in hate crime legislation would serve to provide more protection to an institution that is statistically proven to be racist in action, policy, and impact."

The bill is expected to be signed into law by the governor.