Cops, firefighters and paramedics are one step closer to joining racial and ethnic groups as well as others protected by state hate crime laws.

On Tuesday, a Senate judiciary committee approved legislation that provides for harsher penalties under the state’s hate crimes law for misdemeanors and felonies committed because the victim is a law enforcement officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician.

Race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, national origin and gender — which federal law consider to be immutable characteristics — are are already protected by the state hate crimes law; killing a police officer is currently a capital offense in Mississippi.

The ACLU of Mississippi said the proposal pays lip service to protecting police without actually doing so.

“Not only is this bill unnecessary, but there is absolutely no evidence it will make police safer. Statistics show that violence against police is down. There are already severe, enhanced penalties for assaults on police officers in Mississippi. This bill, and others like it, prioritize police over people,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, the state ACLU’s executive director in a statement.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for debate. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has expressed his support for the legislation.

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Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.