BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill expanding the definition of a hate crime in order to increase protections for first responders.
Louisiana is the first state with so-called "Blue Lives Matter" legislation on the books.
"Coming from a family of law enforcement officers, I have great respect for the work that they do and the risks they take to ensure our safety," said Gov. Edwards in a statement Thursday. "The men and women who put their lives on the line every day, often under very dangerous circumstances are true heroes and they deserve every protection that we can give them."
"I think we ought to be protecting those who protect us on a daily basis," said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, who sponsored HB 953.
The bill makes it a hate crime to intentionally attack a police officer just because of their uniform. It also applies to firefighters and members of EMS.
"This bill doesn't only cover violent crime. It covers arson, vandalism, damage to property, terrorizing," Harris said. "So I think it gives the district attorneys another tool in their tool box to discourage some of this behavior."
The bill increases jail time and penalties for those who choose their victim because of their perceived profession if it is a first responder.
In August 2015, State Trooper Steven Vincent from Lake Charles was shot while in the line of duty. His death came just two weeks after Shreveport Police Officer Thomas LaValley was laid to rest in his hometown of St. Amant. He was shot multiple times while answering a call.
"Our job is in a tumultuous time right now because you've got individuals out there that don't mind hurting somebody," said Col. Mike Edmonson, the head of the Louisiana State Police.
The bill flew through the House without a single no vote. Over in the Senate, it drew overwhelming support.
Still, not everyone was on board with the measure. The Black Youth Project 100 organization's New Orleans branch objected to Harris' bill.
"We have to stop this malicious trend before it starts – we cannot allow the gains of the civil rights movement to be squandered away by police officers scrambling to avoid criticism from their constituents," said Savannah Shange of Black Youth Project 100 New Orleans in a statement.
Meanwhile, the head of the Louisiana NAACP described the bill as a "knee jerk" reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Laws like this to me tend to divide because now you're going to separate. Now it's like Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Now we've got this contest going on and it's just not helpful," said Ernest Johnson, President of the Louisiana NAACP.
He said he fears that expanding the hate crime statute will simply water down its meaning. Edmonson disagreed, saying that the bill makes an important statement.
"It brings to light a very special group, and that's first responders. I think its sad that we live in a time like that we've got to worry about things like this, but it's a critical time that maybe as a state, maybe as a city or a parish, that we take time and we pause and think about that," Edmonson said.