Ala. bill extending hate crimes protections to LEOs raises concerns in committee
Some committee members raised questions about the bill's effectiveness and the legal challenges of discerning motive and intent in alleged hate crimes
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday delayed consideration of a bill that would add law enforcement officers to Alabama’s hate crime statute after Democrats and Republicans raised concerns about the measure.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, would make individuals who deliberately target law enforcement in the commission of crimes subject to the same penalty enhancements as those who target individuals based on race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity or physical or mental disability.
Elliott cited recent violence against law enforcement officers as a reason for his bill. At least six law enforcement officers were killed in Alabama in 2019. That included Sheriff John “Big John” Williams of Lowndes County, shot in a gas station parking lot in Hayneville in November.
“This bill is important to try an additional level of protection for our law enforcement officers that are being targeted,” Elliott said.
Members of the committee did not object to Elliott’s goals. But they raised questions about the effectiveness of the bill, particularly as killing a law enforcement officer is already a capital crime in Alabama.
“When you commit a crime, you kill a law enforcement officer, you get the death penalty,” said Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile.
Elliott argued the bill would also cover other elements of harassment or intimidation of police officers.
Other members of the committee noted that the current hate crimes statute covers qualities that are inherent to an individual, and questioned why the current law does not cover LGBTQ+ individuals.
“When I look at me being black, I can’t change that,” said Senate Majority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. “I was born that way.”
Republicans on the committee raised concerns about discerning motivation and intent.
“Sometimes things can be added to a charge that will later be dismissed, but can be used to procure pleas,” said Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn.
Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, said he sympathized with Elliott’s goals but saw unintended consequences from the bill.
“When we talk about motivation as an element of a crime, that’s a slippery slope,” he said.
The committee could come back to the bill at a later date. The legislative session could run through mid-May.