GOP legislators promote three ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bills

Six Republican state lawmakers launched an effort Monday called “Blue Lives Matter” to increase penalties for assaulting, killing and attempting to kill law enforcement officers in Tennessee, reports Richard Locker.

The legislators will file three separate bills for consideration in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

In an unusual move, the lawmakers created a website, tnbluelivesmatter.com, and a Facebook page, Tennessee Blue Lives Matter, to build support for their effort, which could face obstacles due to increased incarceration costs and possible philosophical differences over separating officers from other citizens. A bill to increase penalties for assaulting officers was filed three years ago but failed.

A proposal by Sen. Todd Gardenhire and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, both Republicans of Chattanooga, would elevate an assault of a law enforcement officer discharging or attempting to discharge official duties at the time from a Class A or B misdemeanor to a Class E felony, if the defendant knew or should have known the person assaulted was an officer. The elevation would increase potential jail time from 11 months, 29 days to up to six years, and the potential fine up to $5,000.

A bill by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, would designate the killing or attempted killing of a victim “who was known or reasonably should have been known by the defendant to be a law enforcement officer,” as a “hate crime.” It would be classified as a Class A felony, the top level in Tennessee’s criminal code.

A bill by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, would create a fine of $500 to $2,000 for the already-illegal public release of the home address of a law enforcement officer, unless release is pursuant to a court order or the officer gives permission. The statute cited by the bill specifically applies to custodians of public records and it is not clear whether penalties would apply to publication, as by the news media.

During a Nashville news conference to launch the effort, White cited the recent death of Memphis police officer Verdell Smith, killed when he was struck by a fleeing suspect after a Downtown shooting spree that injured three others. Smith was trying to clear pedestrians on a crowded Beale Street out of the fleeing suspect’s path when he was struck.

Note: Text of the draft bills is included on the website.