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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida lawmaker wants "Blue Lives Matter" law

A pair of state lawmakers are vowing to pass what they are calling “Blue Lives Matter” legislation that would make killing police or firefighters a hate crime.

State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, was already researching the idea earlier this summer, but said after seeing the police killings in Dallas at a Black Lives Matter rally on Thursday night, he’s even more determined to file a bill patterned after a Louisiana law when the Legislature next meets in early 2017.

"Law enforcement officers hold the fabric of our society together," said Baxley, who is locked in a tough Republican primary battle for a state Senate seat in central Florida. "An attack on them is an attack on our tradition of ordered liberty and we must do everything possible to hold individuals who do them harm accountable."

Historically an action is considered a hate crime when the victim is targeted because of characteristics such as their race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation, not because of the type of employment they have. Hate crimes can result in longer prison terms or steeper fines for people convicted of them.

"(A hate crime) has to be against something intrinsically tied to someone’s sense of self, someone’s immutable characteristics, things they can’t change. It has nothing to do with someone’s profession," Stetson Law professor Charles Rose said.

Traditionally, the hate crime label has been used when there is a "societal reason to prevent habitual and implicit bias against a certain group," he said.

Rose added that he thinks the "Blue Lives Matter" legislation proposal is a political ploy that came too quickly after the Dallas shootings. And he doesn’t expect any new laws to give police more protection anyway.

"They don’t lack for protection under the law... What they are lacking is protection from the ground swell of social media that is creating this toxic environment," he said. "Our state history shows we don’t have a problem punishing (people who shoot police)... The problem is that it keeps happening, and no law is going to stop that."

Baxley is no sure bet to return to the Florida Legislature to file the bill. Baxley cannot seek re-election because of term limits, and is instead trying to win a Florida Senate seat. Two other Republicans - fellow state Rep. Marleen O’Toole and David Gee, a businessman from The Villages - are battling him for that post in an Aug. 30 primary.

O’Toole said she strongly supports first responders, but said he considered it too early to try to create a political issue off the tragic events in Dallas.

Gee could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Even if he doesn't win in August, Baxley said he will continue to help state Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, who has also said he will push for similar legislation in the House in 2017. 

Baxley said he was unconcerned that his idea could instigate more protests from the Black Lives Matter movement.

"If they want a war over law and order, they have found it," said Baxley, an ardent defender of Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense legislation in 2013 after some lawmakers fought to repeal it after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager in Sanford, Florida.

Tampa Bay Times Reporter Megan Reeves contributed to this report.

 

[Last modified: Friday, July 8, 2016 7:22pm]

    

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