After a passionate debate involving police and race, the state Senate gave final passage on a 32-5 vote and sent to Gov. Matt Bevin a bill that would make it a hate crime to target police and other first responders.
Two Republican members — Tom Buford of Nicholasville and Brandon Smith of Hazard — said they voted for the bill to honor Brenda Cowan, a Lexington firefighter who was shot and killed in Februray 2004 as she was responding to a domestic violence call. She was Kentucky’s first black female firefighter killed in the line of duty.
Supporters of the bill say police need more protection, while opponents such as organizers of Black Lives Matter call it offensive. Some question whether a new law was necessary since anyone attacking police already faces stiff charges.
Senate opponents of House Bill 14 said they honor and respect all emergency responders but were concerned that the legislation, known as “Blue Lives Matter,” could cause problems.
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Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said that the bill would “chill and handcuff protests made by racial minorities.”
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Lexington, said it would be more helpful to police to fully fund their pensions and training programs. “This bill is not a deterrent,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, supported the bill but said it should go further by including the wives and families of police officers and other emergency responders.
In a floor speech supporting the bill, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he has had police security in his life as a prosecuting attorney and Senate leader because of threats against him and his family.
“We, as legislators, define people to protect,” he said, adding that the legislation is not designed to designate one person as less valuable than another, but is an extension of “every life matters.”
The legislation basically adds offenses committed against police, firefighters and EMS personnel. Louisiana currently is the only state to extend hate crime protections to first responders.
The Kentucky bill is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville.
“In the wake of brutal killing against law enforcement across the country, it is vital that we do everything in our power to look out for those who serve and protect us,” Bratcher said in a statement. “I am pleased that the Senate recognizes the importance of doing this, and hope that other states will follow our actions and enact these protections.”
Bevin is expected to sign the legislation into law.