Lawmakers looking to expand hate crime protection to law enforcement

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
August 22, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- If someone targets a person because of their sexual orientation, race or religion in Florida they can be charged with a hate crime, which carries increased penalties.

Following the deaths of two police officers over the weekend and the shooting of two others, lawmakers are looking to add law enforcement and emergency service personnel to those protected groups.

When a person is charged with a hate crime they face increased penalties; what would normally be a first degree misdemeanor would instead become a third degree felony.

The Florida Police Benevolence Association says recent animosity towards police has created a need for additional protections.

"There seems to be a tension across the United States," said FPBA's Ken Kopczynski. "If we can have somebody think twice about doing something, whether it's assaulting an officer or stealing something, we think it's a good idea."

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says enhanced penalties already exist for those who commit crimes against on duty police officers.

"For your more common crimes, like batteries and assaults, there is a reclassification statute that basically moves the seriousness of the offense up one level," said Luke Newman of the FACD.

If passed, the legislation would expand protections to include off duty officers as well, or anyone the perpetrator perceives to be law enforcement.

By expanding hate crime protection to law enforcement and emergency service personnel, defense lawyers say it could open the doors for other occupations to also ask for the same protections.

“Are construction workers next? You know depending on your point of view, you start adding occupations," Newman continued. "I think there could be a criticism made that there's a slippery slope involved.”

The Florida Sheriffs Association supported similar legislation last year, but says it has not yet taken a position on the bill filed Monday.

The bill was filed four days after four Florida police offers were shot in the line of duty.

When similar legislation was proposed earlier this year, no committee heard it.

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