Alabama legislators bring bills to protect first responders, law enforcement
When the regular session of the Alabama legislature reconvenes on Tuesday, respective bills to make killing first responders a capital offense and add law enforcement officers to the state hate crime statute will be on the agenda.
HB 59, sponsored by State Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), would add on-duty first responders to the list of murder victims that constitutes a capital offense. State law already makes the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer or prison guard a capital offense. Capitol offenses in Alabama are punishable by life in prison or death.
Sells’ bill would also add on-duty law enforcement officers, prison guards and first responders as victims in the list of aggravating circumstances to a capital offense. This would make the death penalty more likely in the sentencing phase of this kind of capital offense.
In HB 59, first responders are defined as emergency medical services personnel licensed by the Alabama Department of Public Health and firefighters and volunteer firefighters as defined by existing state law.
In an interview with Yellowhammer News, Sells said he personally served as a firefighter and EMT for a couple years and understands the dangers that these individuals and law enforcement officers brave every day.
“The world we’re living in is getting more and more dangerous – more traffic, more wrecks, more threats – every day,” Sells emphasized. “These are the people out here trying to help us, save us and protect us. We need to have their backs, because they have ours.”
This is a bill Sells has sponsored the past two legislative sessions, ever since the infamous deadly 2016 ambush of police officers in Dallas, TX. Last year, it passed the House and was the next bill up on the Senate calendar for a vote when the chamber adjourned sine die.
“I had some trouble up there [in the Senate] last year, but I don’t expect that trouble this year,” he advised. “So I believe it’ll [get passed].”
Sells will also carry a bill in the House that is originating in the Senate, sponsored by State Sen. Chris Elliot (R-Daphne). This bill, SB 36, “would provide that when a person is found guilty of committing a misdemeanor or felony against a law enforcement officer and it is shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the commission of the crime was motivated by the victim’s employment as a law enforcement officer, the person is subject to heightened criminal penalties.”
The bill essentially makes employment as a law enforcement officer a protected class, just like race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability.
Speaking on both bills, Sells outlined, “I support law enforcement, because at the end of the day, where would our country be without law enforcement? And I think they’ve been getting the short-end of the stick lately. We need to help them as much as we can. … These bills just show to the public that if you do something to them that’s a crime – whether it’s murder or something else – you’re going to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And that’s the way it should be.”
In an interview with Yellowhammer News, Elliot said, “We see every day our law enforcement personnel that are targeted just because of what they do. We see folks that are focused on law enforcement because of the duties that they are trying to carry out and their service when they’re protecting us – they are being targeted solely because of that.”
“This legislation simply adds that particular motivation behind the targeting of law enforcement officers as a hate crime, just as it would be for any other hate crime,” he explained.
Just as law enforcement officers have our backs daily, Elliot wants to make it clear lawmakers in the Yellowhammer State have their backs.
“We owe it to our law enforcement to make sure that they have the same protection that other groups have,” Elliot added. “And we also owe it to the prosecutors to make sure that they have the tools that they need when it comes time to prosecute issues.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is supportive of Elliot’s bill and believes it will gain significant traction in the chamber.
He called SB 36 “a reasonable approach.”
“I think [Elliot’s] bill is balanced and it’s also justified,” Ward advised. “My plan is to have it on the agenda the second week that we meet.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn