Politics

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 originally called his legislation “Blue Lives Matter” — a response to the nationwide “Black Lives Matter” protests against police brutality toward African-Americans.

Bratcher said after hearing some pushback from constituents, he’s changing the title.

“‘Blue lives matter’ is what the title originally was for this bill and it doesn’t demean any other ‘lives matter,’” Bratcher said. “I’m one of those that believe ‘all lives matter.’”

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.

“I just believe that we need to show the first responders that we’re with them and that if you attack them that you need to be ready to face the full brunt of the law,” he said.

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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

This story has been updated. 

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.