aclu-logo

Protecting the Bill of Rights in Utah since 1958

Update on Rep. Paul Ray's "Blue Lives Matter (More)" Bill

06 April 2017 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

Governor Herbert didn't veto HB433, "Penalties for Targeting Law Enforcement Officer." But the story doesn't end there.  BlueLivesMatterGraphic CityWeekly

(Graphic at right from The CityWeekly; check out their recent excellent article on this bill!)

The ACLU of Utah sent only one veto letter to Governor Herbert at the conclusion of the 2017 Legislative Session. While we were able to act during the session to improve or neuter most negative bills - making a veto request for those bills unnecessary - this bill steamrolled through the session in the final two weeks, with only one public hearing in a legislative committee hearing.

When HB433, "Penalties for Targeting Law Enforcement Officer," sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield), was first introduced near the end of the session, it closely resembled traditional "Blue Lives Matter" bills we've seen in other states: defining crimes against police officers as terrorism, and allowing any crime against person or property that was seen to be “targeting police” based on political and social views, to be subject to a criminal penalty enhancement. Rep. Ray dropped the terrorism language, and narrowed the crimes for which a penalty enhancement could be sought (only those that result in serious bodily injury or death); we still testified against it.

 In it's final form, HB433 was most concerning to the ACLU of Utah due to its definition of "targeting a law enforcement officer":

"'Targeting a law enforcement officer' means the commission of any offense involving the unlawful use of force and violence against a law enforcement officer, causing serious bodily injury or death in furtherance of political or social objectives in order to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence or affect the conduct of a government or a unit of government."

We were - and remain - concerned that this bill could have potentially negative repercussions for activists and demonstrators who rally against police brutality. For example, the “serious bodily injury" reference, when coupled with the language about “in the furtherance of political or social objectives” could be used against demonstrators or protestors if there is ever an officer injured (even accidentally) at a police brutality rally or march. We don't believe that prosecutors should be sifting through an accused person's social media posts for angry or even violent statements about police, in order to seek penalty enhancements.

Thus, we asked Governor Herbert to veto the bill for First Amendment reasons, but also because HB433 is unnecessary. There have been no recorded incidents of law enforcement officers being targeted for injury or death "in furtherance of political or social objectives, and killing a law enforcement officer is already defined in Utah statue as "aggravated murder," for which prosecutors can seek the death penalty against the accused.

We also anticipate that this type of legislation may cause greater rifts between police officers and members of the community, at a time when great progress has been made in community relations through concerted outreach efforts by law enforcement agencies.

That's why we wrote our veto letter, and that is why we asked you - in endless Facebook posts and email requests! - to contact the Governor and ask him to veto HB433. We feel confident that all your feedback to the Governor's Office was heard by Governor Herbert and his advisors. No, Governor Herbert didn't veto HB433, "Penalties for Targeting Law Enforcement Officer." He signed it, but not without qualifications.

We have heard from sources at the Capitol that Governor Herbert agreed to sign the bill pass into law, but with the understanding that he would to ask the Legislature to revise the bill, during a Special Session, so that the language that defines "targeting a police officer" is removed from the law. Such a revision would greatly alleviate our First Amendment concerns over this bill.

We're still a bit miffed that in a state where the Legislature balks at adding teeth (and LGBTQ people) to our existing hate crimes statute, a bill that adds special protections for police officers (a group of individuals who are not defined as a protected class, nor have historically suffered from systemic oppression) would slide through the process without any real barriers (discussed in this recent CityWeekly article). But we're glad that, in the end, the bill won't have much of an impact on state law.