Police will become a protected class in Texas after legislators agreed to broaden the state’s hate crime law following an ambush in Dallas last year that left five officers dead.
The state House and Senate both approved House Bill 2908 Tuesday, sending the legislation to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott for his final stamp of approval.
Mr. Abbott, a first-term Republican and the state’s former attorney general, highly touted the bill in the past and is expected to lend his signature imminently, setting the stage for the legislation to take effect Sept. 1.
Known as the Police Protection Act, the bill enhances penalties for crimes committed against on-duty law enforcement officers and judges. It makes restraining, assaulting or threatening either a second degree felony punishable by up to 20 years behind bars, and makes causing serious bodily harm to an officer or judge a first degree felony carrying a maximum sentence of 99 years.
In doing as much, the legislation expands the state’s hate crime statute to offer police and judges the same protections against bias and prejudice currently provided to individuals on account of their race, gender, disability, religion, age and sexual preference.
“House Bill 2908 sends a clear message that the state of Texas stands with our police officers,” said state Sen. Joan Huffman, Houston Republican and a sponsor of the bill, The Texas Tribune reported.
The bill was proposed last summer after a lone gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, opened fire upon a group of Dallas police officers, killing five police officers and injuring 11 others, including civilians. An amendment was added in May to include members of the bench in honor of a judge who was shot to death in 2015.
“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the state will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Mr. Abbott said when the bill was introduced in July.
“The men and women in uniform risk their lives every day to protect the public, and it is time we show them the State of Texas has their back,” the governor said.
Sixty-six police officers were shot to death during 2016, up from 43 a year earlier, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.