Legal Blog

Louisiana’s “Blue Lives Matter” Bill

Written by Kristin Lausten

Legislative Update: Louisiana’s “Blue Lives Matter” Bill  Makes Targeting First Responders a Hate Crime

2016 Regular Session
Act No. 184
House Bill No. 953

Louisiana’s recently elected governor, John Bell Edwards, signed a first-of-its-kind bill into law on May 26, 2016 making it a hate-crime to target first responders. Dubbed the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, the law expands the state’s hate-crime law to include the targeting of “law enforcement officers, firefighters [and] other emergency medical services personnel.”  By signing the bill into law, Edwards made Louisiana the first state in the nation to consider first responders as a protected class under traditional hate-crime laws.

Traditionally, hate-crime laws in Louisiana have permitted increased penalties for those convicted of crimes committed on the basis of a person’s “actual or perceived race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry of that person or the owner or occupant of that property or because of actual or perceived membership or service in, or employment with, an organization.”  According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Louisiana is the only state to include targeting an individual “because of actual or perceived employment” as a first responder as a protected class.  However, the majority of states, including Louisiana, have enhanced penalties for assaulting first responders.

In a statement, Edwards said “[t]he men and women who put their lives on the line every day, often under very dangerous circumstances, are true heroes, and they deserve every protection that we can give them.”  Under the new law, prosecutors may pursue increased penalties against those who target first responders for crimes ranging from misdemeanor assault to felony murder.  Those convicted of committing felony hate-crimes against first responders could face a fine of up to $5,000.00 or five years in prison.  Misdemeanor convictions of a hate-crime charge could result in a $500.00 fine or six months in prison.  These increased penalties will now extend to those who are convicted of targeting an individual based upon his or her actual or perceived employment as a first responder.

Purpose of the Blue Lives Matter Bill

The purpose of this bill is remains somewhat unclear.  Most states, including Louisiana, already have increased penalties for those who assault or kill law enforcement officers.  Considered an “aggravating factor” in Louisiana, causing the death of a law enforcement officer – whether premeditated or not – automatically results in a charge of first-degree murder, which could result in a death sentence if convicted.  Similarly, committing assault or battery on a law enforcement officer also results in a harsher charge.

In Louisiana, nine hate-crimes were reported in 2014, which is the most current information maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  According to data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, nine law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in Louisiana in 2015, of which five were fatally shot.  As of the enactment of the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, no law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty thus far in 2016 in Louisiana.

According to Edwards, “The overarching message is that hate crimes will not be tolerated in Louisiana.”

The author may be contacted at:
Kristin M. Lausten
New Orleans, Louisiana
Telephone: 504.377.6585

This article is provided as an educational service for general informational purposes only. The material does not constitute legal advice or rendering of professional services.