Maine lawmakers are considering a bill to make the assault of a police officer a hate crime.
Rep. Karl Ward (R-Dedham) is sponsoring the bill. The language is still being finalized, but Ward said it would make the assault a Class B felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“It’s being referred to here as the ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bill,” said Rep. Ward. “It gives the judge the latitude where they can consider whether this was a hate crime perpetrated against emergency responders, simply because of who they are.”
Ward said the bill would apply to police, sheriff’s deputies, wardens, firefighters, and EMS professionals.
“They are being assaulted in shocking ways that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before,” said Ward.
He said the intent of the law is not to convict someone simply resisting arrest for a hate crime – but rather someone trying to ambush or target police officers in situations seen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas.
Lawmakers in Louisiana passed a similar “Blue Lives Matter” bill, and several other states are considering similar legislation.
Critics, such as the Anti-Defamation League, argue a hate crime protection should not be extended to someone on the basis of their occupation.
Current hate crime laws in Maine protect people who are victimized on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, or homelessness.
Ward’s bill would add a person’s status as a law enforcement officer, emergency medical care provider or fighter to that list.
“While the ADL supports enhanced penalties for attacks against law enforcement officers and first responders, we do not support adding law enforcement or other categories based on employment to hate crime laws,” said Robert Trestan, ADL New England Regional Director.
“Doing so is unnecessary and will make it more difficult to prosecute targeted attacks against police, as well as dilute and undermine the effectiveness of the hate crime law and the protections it affords to victims and their communities,” said Trestan.
Ward’s “Act to Prevent Violence Against Emergency Responders” could have a public hearing as soon as next week.