Capital News Service//Carrie Snurr//January 17, 2017
//January 17, 2017
A Senate committee heard testimony regarding a proposal to extend Maryland hate-crime protections to law enforcement officers.
The bill, originally titled The Blue Lives Matter Act of 2017, adds language to the Police Protection Act defining a law enforcement officer and protections given to officers to the existing Maryland hate crimes law.
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, and his daughter, Delegate Meagan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, introduced companion bills in both the Senate and the House of Delegates for the 2017 legislative session.
Sen. Simonaire explained to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Tuesday that the bill is not meant to minimize efforts to improve law enforcement and accountability. He showed clips of CNN’s coverage of attacks on police officers in Dallas on July 7.
Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, expressed concern that the bill did not make enough distinction about what would qualify as a hate crime.
The Blue Lives Matter movement started in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and incidents of police officers slain in the line of duty.
Vince Canales, president of the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police, testified in favor of the bill, citing an increase in ambush attacks against police officers including an incident last year in Prince George’s County in which a man stood outside of a police precinct and opened fire at the building. One officer died due to friendly fire in that incident.
In January 2015, the National Fraternal Order of Police asked that police officers be added as a protected class under federal hate crimes, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
Opposition to proposal
Some civil rights groups are opposed, however.
“It’s an unnecessary bill. The Civil Rights Act protects things that are innate, race, sex, or religion” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference NAACP. “Being a police officer or firefighter is a career, they still have a choice to do that.”
He added that the current hate-crimes law is enough to protect firefighters and police officers who may be targeted but that adding language specifically for police officers is unnecessary.
Delegate Steven Arentz, R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s, sponsored a similar bill to expand hate crime protections to include both police officers and first responders such as firefighters or emergency services personnel.
Arentz said the bill he sponsored does not include the language “Blue Lives Matter” because it is a very charged phrase. He sponsored a similar bill last year that did not make it out of committee, which he said left him heartbroken.