This week, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., scored a win as the U.S. House passed his “Thin Blue Line Act” which would make murdering a police officer, firefighter or first responder killed in federal jurisdiction an aggravating factor in federal death penalty decisions.
The House passed the proposal on Thursday on a 271-143 vote. While 4 Republicans voted against it, 223 members of the GOP supported the measure and were joined by 48 Democrats. Most Democrats--139 of them--voted against the measure. Despite that most Democrats representing the Sunshine State--including U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto--voted to pass Buchanan’s bill. Three members of the Florida delegation--Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Tom Rooney and Democrat Frederica Wilson--did not vote.
“America’s police officers and first responders are the first ones on scene to help those in harm’s way,” Buchanan said. “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
Buchanan praised former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., who introduced the bill at the start of 2015. Jolly was defeated by Crist back in November.
“This legislation will hopefully serve as an even greater deterrent and help protect the men and women who risk their lives for the safety and well-being of others,” Jolly said when he introduced the bill back in February 2015.
Jolly pointed to the way the law was set up and said it needed to be altered considerably.
“Current federal law only cites the homicide of a federal public servant,” Jolly said. “This bill would close that loophole and treat all police equally under federal law.”
U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., took to the House floor to praise the bill on Thursday.
“I rise today in support of the Thin Blue Line Act, which will make the murder or attempted murder of a law enforcement officer or first responder an ‘aggravating factor’ in death penalty determinations,” Dunn said. “The officers of the thin blue line put their lives at risk every day and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so we can rest easy at night. Our law enforcement and first responders run into danger so that others can escape it.
“They do this despite the rise in violence against them,” Dunn added. “We have witnessed a 167 percent increase in ambush-style killings of police officers in 2016 alone. This is tragic and unacceptable. The Thin Blue Line Act will hold cop killers accountable and seek justice for those murdered in the line of duty. And it will show our resolve as citizens to protect the officers who are sworn to protect us. During this week -- National Police Week – we can also show our gratitude to law enforcement and their families by passing the Thin Blue Line Act. It is an honor to represent them in Congress."
The proposal won the applause of law enforcement officials and first responders based in Florida.
“The millions of brave men and women who go to work every day as first-responders and police officers should not be targeted solely because of the profession they have chosen or the uniform they wear,” Holmes Beach Police Chief William L. Tokajer said. “As a police chief and a law enforcement officer who has been shot in the line of duty, I truly want to thank Congressman Buchanan for having our back, it means more than you’ll ever know to the officer and their families.”
The measure now heads to the U.S. Senate where the proposal has the support of by Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and John McCain of Arizona. Before he was named U.S. attorney general by President Donald Trump, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions was backing the measure in the Senate.