Bryant signs ‘Back the Badge’ law

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Anyone who commits a crime against first responders or law enforcement officers will soon be punished twice as harshly.

Friday morning, Gov. Phil Bryant signed the “Blue, Red and Med Lives Matter Act,” or HB 645, which enhances the penalties for crimes committed against law enforcement officers, firefighters,and emergency medical personnel. The bill becomes effective July 1.

“As a former law enforcement officer, I all too well understand the challenges that occur each and every day when you put that badge on and you go to work,” Bryant said before he signed the bill.

Kayleigh Skinner/Mississippi Today

Gov. Phil Bryant signs HB 645 and 1367 into law on March 24, 2017.

In an announcement that wasn’t publicized ahead of time, Bryant thanked law enforcement officers for their service and bravery.

Many emergency medical technicians, police and other first responders stood behind him as he signed the bill, Bryant’s first public signing of a bill all year. In all, the governor has signed 91 bills since the start of the legislative session.

Originally, two versions of the “blue lives matter” bill existed. One version that died would have made these offenses hate crimes.

Ultimately, the negotiated bill doubles the penalty for any crime against first responders, including nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. The bill was amended to clarify that the bill does not diminish individuals’ rights to free speech or peaceful assembly, supporters said before the House voted 94-18 to send the bill to the governor.

The bill was debated in the House when it was first presented because several African American and Democratic lawmakers argued that the Legislature has ignored racial profiling of black citizens by police.

At the signing, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the legislation was a way to thank the people who keep Mississippi’s communities safe.

“When I think about this bill, this is a small token of the Mississippi Legislature on behalf of all Mississippians saying ‘not in our state,'” he said. “In our state, in the great state of Mississippi, we not only respect those men and women who put on the badge every day and go and protect us, we celebrate your efforts.”

Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, shared that sentiment, telling those who attended the signing that his personal experiences with first responders taught him that they go above and beyond to do their jobs and serve their communities.

“We stand behind these men and women who wear the badge,” Gunn said. “They protect us, it is time for us to step up and protect them.”

Bryant also signed HB 1367 into law, increasing the penalties for murdering or threatening a witness.