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AUSTIN - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is asking state lawmakers to make it a hate crime to target police officers.
"You have a governor who has your back," Gov. Abbott told law enforcement last week, during a televised media conference the day after five officers were murdered in Dallas by a man deliberately targeting white officers.
Following the targeted killing of three more officers next door in Louisiana, Abbott announced a proposal Monday to make it a hate crime to attack law enforcement out of bias against police. The "Police Protection Act" would also increase penalties for crimes against officers and create an education program to encourage respect for officers among youth.
"Texas will no longer tolerate disrespect for those who serve," Abbott wrote in a statement Monday, "And it must be made to clear to anyone targeting our law enforcement officials that their actions will be met with severe justice."
The governor's proposal will still need a legislator to carry it next session.
A similar bill in already in the works. Draft legislation by Dallas state Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) would add discrimination against police and first responders to the hate crime section of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which currently includes prejudice based on "race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference."
In a statement, Villalba told KVUE he's working closely with Dallas police and other law enforcement groups and is supportive of the governor's initiative. Promising no legislation will be filed without the written sign-off of the governor's office and law enforcement leaders, Villalba wrote, "As all Texans agree, we simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while our officers are under siege."
"The hate crimes issue is something that we're talking about in several states," said Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), who points out the state has already made killing an officer a capital offense and eligible for the death penalty.
"While this hate crimes proposal by Rep. Villalba and the governor's proposal is good," said Wilkison, "We'd like to see it go a step further, so that the D.A. has to seek the death penalty in every case where an officer is killed."
President Obama privately told law enforcement last week his administration would have pursued hate crime charges, had the Dallas shooter lived. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced legislation in Congress last week to make attacking a police officer a federal offense.
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