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H.R. 115: Thin Blue Line Act

This was a vote to pass H.R. 115 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.


Congress
115th Congress
Date
May 18, 2017
Chamber
House
Number
#265
Question:
On Passage of the Bill in the House
Result:
Passed

What you can do

Key: R Yea D Yea R Nay D Nay
Seat position based on our ideology score.
This is a cartogram. Each hexagon represents one congressional district.
Totals     Republican     Democrat
  Yea 271
 
 
63%
223 48
  Nay 143
 
 
33%
4 139
Not Voting 16
 
 
4%
10 6
Required: Simple Majority source: house.gov

Vote Details

Notes: The Speaker’s Vote? “Aye” or “Yea”?
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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.

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