skip to main content

H.R. 115: Thin Blue Line Act

May 18, 2017 at 4:20 p.m. ET. On Passage of the Bill in the House.

This was a vote to pass H.R. 115 (115th) in the House.

Shootings of police officers have been on the rise recently. Law enforcement fatalities caused by firearms increased 56 percent last year, to their highest level in the past five years. And so far this year, they’re up another 9 percent.

A new bill called the Thin Blue Line Act would enhance sentences for people convicted of fatally shooting (or attempting to fatally shoot) law enforcement officers.

Context and what the bill does

In death penalty cases, so-called “aggravating factors” are elements of the case that would merit a more severe penalty for the defendant. In federal death penalty cases, aggravating factors include the murder victim being a child or a pregnant woman, a hostage situation occurring prior to the murder being committed, or if the murder containing additional “cruel” elements such as torture or rape.

One element not currently on the list: killing a law enforcement officer. So the Thin Blue Line Act would add the killing or attempted killing a law enforcement officer to the list of aggravating factors in federal death penalty cases. Labelled H.R. 265 in the House, the legislation was introduced by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL16).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation is a necessary tough-on-crime measure in the face of an escalating threat to public safety.

“America’s police officers and first responders are the first ones on scene to help those in harm’s way,” House lead sponsor Buchanan said in a press release. “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 tolerated.”

What opponents say

Opponents argue that the bill is worrisome on both civil liberties and criminal justice grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union wrote in opposition, “Expanding the number of aggravating factors that would subject a person to the death penalty is unnecessary and duplicative, counterproductive to improving law enforcement and community relations, and unlikely to prevent future violence against police.” They argued that the death penalty has not proven an effective deterrent to murder rates, and that all 50 states currently contain the provision on a state level already.

Opponents note that, while any law enforcement officer death is tragic, the current numbers are noticeably lower than they were throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The one-year spike in 2016 may prove an aberration amid a decades-long overall decline.

Opponents also note that the 64 law enforcement officials killed last year, while tragic, was dwarfed by the 963 people killed by police last year, including 233 black people — an issue for which many Democrats contendRepublicans’ have been far more reticent to condemn or to introduce corresponding public policy.

Votes and odds of passage

After first attracting 21 cosponsors, all Republicans, the bill passed the House 271–143 on May 18. Democrats mostly opposed, 48–139. All but four Republicans voted in favor: Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI3), Thomas Massie (R-KY4), Paul Mitchell (R-MI10), and Chris Smith (R-NJ4).

It had not yet received a vote in the Senate. President Trump highlighted the measure approvingly during National Police Week.


All Votes R D
Yea 65%
Nay 35%
Not Voting

Passed. Simple Majority Required. Source:

Ideology Vote Chart

Republican - Yea Democrat - Yea Republican - Nay Democrat - Nay
Seat position based on our ideology score.

Cartogram Map

Each hexagon represents one congressional district. Solid hexes are Yea votes.

What you can do

Vote Details

Notes: The Speaker’s Vote? “Aye” or “Yea”?
Download as CSV

Statistically Notable Votes

Statistically notable votes are the votes that are most surprising, or least predictable, given how other members of each voter’s party voted and other factors.

All Votes

Study Guide

How well do you understand this vote? Use this study guide to find out.

You can find answers to most of the questions below here on the vote page. For a guide to understanding the bill this vote was about, see here.

What was the procedure for this vote?

  1. What was this vote on?
  2. Not all votes are meant to pass legislation. In the Senate some votes are not about legislation at all, since the Senate must vote to confirm presidential nominations to certain federal positions.

    This vote is related to a bill. However, that doesn’t necessarily tell you what it is about. Congress makes many decisions in the process of passing legislation, such as on the procedures for debating the bill, whether to change the bill before voting on passage, and even whether to vote on passage at all.

    You can learn more about the various motions used in Congress at If you aren’t sure what the House was voting on, try seeing if it’s on this list.

  3. What is the next step after this vote?
  4. Take a look at where this bill is in the legislative process. What might come next? Keep in mind what this specific vote was on, and the context of the bill. Will there be amendments? Will the other chamber of Congress vote on it, or let it die?

    For this question it may help to briefly examine the bill itself.

What is your analysis of this vote?

  1. What trends do you see in this vote?
  2. Members of Congress side together for many reasons beside being in the same political party, especially so for less prominent legislation or legislation specific to a certain region. What might have determined how the roll call came out in this case? Does it look like Members of Congress voted based on party, geography, or some other reason?

    One tool that will be helpful in answering this question is the cartogram at the top of the page. A cartogram is a stylized map of the United States that shows each district as an identical hexagon. This view allows you to see the how the representatives from each district voted arranged by their geography and colored by their political party. What trends can you see in the cartogram for this vote?

  3. How did your representative vote?
  4. There is one vote here that should be more important to you than all the others. These are the votes cast by your representative, which is meant to represent you and your community. Do you agree with how your representative voted? Why do you think they voted the way they did?

    If you don’t already know who your Members of Congress are you can find them by entering your address here.

Each vote’s study guide is a little different — we automatically choose which questions to include based on the information we have available about the vote. Study guides are a new feature to GovTrack. You can help us improve them by filling out this survey or by sending your feedback to