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House passes bill to toughen penalties for harming first responders

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Photo: kali9/iStockphoto

Washington – In response to a spike in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty in 2017, the House on May 18 passed a bill that seeks stricter penalties for people who harm or attempt to harm first responders.

The Thin Blue Line Act, sponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), would make the murder or attempted murder of a police officer, firefighter or other emergency personnel an “aggravating” factor in death penalty determinations, a press release from Buchanan’s office states. If approved, the law would apply to crimes under federal jurisdiction.

As of June 20, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund counted 63 police fatalities in 2017 – an increase of 34 percent from that same date in 2016. Twenty-two of the fatalities were firearms-related (up 10 percent from the previous year), 25 were traffic-related (up 19 percent) and 16 were from other causes (up 167 percent), according to the organization.

“America’s police officers and first responders are the first ones on scene to help those in harm’s way,” Buchanan said in the press release. “These brave men and women and their families put it all on the line and deserve our unwavering support. Getting this bill signed into law will protect those who serve our communities and send a clear message: targeting or killing our first responders will not be tolerated.”

The bill, approved by a 271-143 vote, now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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