What Texas’ Back the Blue Laws Mean for You
On June 1, 2021,
Governor Greg Abbott signed several ‘Back the Blue’ bills that will not only prevent cities from decreasing police budgets but also
enhance criminal penalties for certain crimes committed against law enforcement.
Besides cities, these efforts are believed to target protestors as well.
This is because one of the bills, House Bill 9, reportedly followed an
incident last September in which a California sheriff’s department
said protesters blocked a police car containing 2 injured officers from
entering a hospital.
In a statement made by Governor Abbott, “… These laws also
help protect our law enforcement officers in the line of duty by enhancing
penalties for crimes committed against them such as fireworks or laser
pointers to harm or obstruct the police.”
With these changes in mind, let’s take a look at a summary of the
new ‘back the blue’ laws:
- HOUSE BILL 9 enhances the criminal penalty to a state jail felony offense
for anyone who knowingly blocks an emergency vehicle or obstructs access
to a hospital or health care facility.
- HOUSE BILL 1900 freezes property tax revenues for cities with a population
over 250,000 that defund the police. Under this law, cities that defund
the police will lose their annexation powers for 10 years and any area
annexed by a defunding city in the past 30 years can vote to dis-annex
from the city. It also allows the State of Texas to withhold sales taxes
collected by a defunding city and give it to the Texas Department of Public
Safety to pay for the cost of state resources used to protect residents
of a defunded municipality.
- HOUSE BILL 2366 enhances criminal penalties for the use of laser pointers
and creates an offense for the use of fireworks to harm or obstruct the police.
- SENATE BILL 23 requires voter approval to reduce law enforcement budgets
in counties with a population of more than one million. If voter approval
is not received, but the county still defunds the police, the county's
property tax revenue will be frozen.
Of these bills, Texas civilians should pay close attention to HB 2366 and
HB 9. Currently, it is a class C misdemeanor to knowingly direct a light
from a laser pointer at a uniformed safety officer, including a police
officer. A conviction will result in a $500 fine, but under HB 2366, using
laser pointers in these capacities could result in harsher punishments,
such as jail time and steeper fines.
Further, HB 2366 creates a new crime of using fireworks to harm or obstruct
the police. People speculate that the creation of this new offense is
particularly in response to the overwhelming use of fireworks we’ve
seen at protests throughout the US. In cities across the nation, police
officers and protestors have suffered injuries from people launching fireworks
into crowds. Although regular civilians have been hurt by these actions,
HB 2366 ONLY targets offenders who use fireworks to harm or obstruct the police.
Moreover, HB 9 increases the penalty for blocking an emergency vehicle
or obstructing access to a hospital or health care facility. Currently,
this offense is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in
jail and/or a $2,000 fine, but under HB 9, blocking an emergency vehicle
or obstructing access to a health care facility is a state jail felony.
A conviction will instead result in 6 months to 2 years behind bars and/or
a $10,000 fine, with a mandatory minimum 10-day jail sentence.
As you can see, the state of Texas is not messing around with people who
interfere with law enforcement. The Governor made the message clear: Texas
backs the blue. While HB 9 and HB 2366 are considered to be “born”
out of the social unrest and protests we’ve seen over the past year,
they could very well impact you.
For instance, let’s say your friend broke their arm and you’re
rushing them to the hospital. Instead of finding parking once you arrive,
you unknowingly park your car in an area where emergency vehicles transport
patients. After all, your friend is in excruciating pain and you simply
want to get them help. Although you weren’t aware that you parked
your car in an “off-limits” area, you may get accused of an
offense if you are suspected to have parked there for the sole purpose
of obstructing emergency vehicles or access to the hospital.
This is one of the many ways you could get accused of a crime under Texas’
‘Back the Blue’ laws. For this reason, we encourage you to
get in touch with Jerry Loftin & Associates if you have questions
about how these laws could impact you or are facing criminal accusations
in Forth Worth. Call (817) 591-7850 to learn more!