The Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would increase penalties for trying to outrun law enforcement. House Bill 239 is sponsored by state Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg.
Shaver explained that under her bill an “attempt to elude” charge would be raised from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony if an offender crosses state lines or causes injury or death.
“Some in our community have tremendous fear about being stopped by the police,” said Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard:
“The thing that is subject to interpretation is a concern because of the distrust of the Black community.”
“I tell my family members, if a police officer gets behind you to try to get to a lit area, slow down and turn flashers on,” Bracy said. “Sometimes the fear of being pulled over by the police is such that a person may get panicked.”
“It is really concerning for me how this bill got picked now,” Bracy said. “This is an awful bill given the times we are in.”
“I don’t expect them to understand or walk a mile in my shoes,” Bracy said. “But I don’t know many Black men my age who have not had a negative encounter with police no matter how successful they have been.”
Shaver explained that 26 Alabama counties border another state:
“They think they are home free, if they get to that state line,” Shaver said. “There has to be penalties for committing crimes.”
“The purpose is to help our judges and district attorneys have this tool,” Shaver said.
“When you get into a situation adrenaline goes up,” Shaver, whose husband is a sheriff, said. “Bad things can happen when that comes to a stop.”
Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mount Hope, said:
“I have made thousands of traffic stops. I taught at the Academy how to make a traffic stop. It is important to build a repoire and to de-escalate the situation early on.”
“One of those is not complying,” Robertson said. “We are training officers already to give as much grace as possible.”
“When these things go south that is when it can turn deadly,” Robertson said. “Especially if you have a reason to run you can shoot across the border stay with a cousin for a few weeks and wait for it to blow over.”
“I appreciate you bringing this,” Robertson told Shaver.
“We need help from both sides,” Robertson said. “Like it or not that guy who is stopping you has tremendous authority that he will exercise if you resist.”
Shaver said that in the bill attempting to elude and causing a serious injury is a class B felony while causing a minor injury is a class C felony.
“I really understand this bill,” said Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery. “A car crossed the median and almost hit us. He missed us by just an inch. We would have gotten killed. I totally understand why you brought this bill.”
Morris said that attempting to flee as a felony must be associated with another felony.
Rep. Artis A.J. McCampbell, D-Livingston, said: “I am very glad of this process that we have . I had a concern about this bill so I went to the gentle lady to talk about the bill. We came up with a compromise that I think will alleviate some concerns.”
McCampbell, who is a retired law enforcement officer himself explained that when he was “young and foolish” he did flee from law enforcement a couple of times; but fortunately, nothing bad happened.
The McCampbell amendment reads:
”C felony if either of the following occur: a. While committing a separate felony, the flight or attempt to elude causes an actual death or results in the offender crossing the lines of the State of Alabama into a neighboring state. b. The flight or attempt to elude causes physical injury.”
McCampbell explained that he did not want someone who is “just young and foolish” to do something stupid and “now he has a felony record” and things go downhill for him from there. The amendment was adopted 96 to 0.
HB239 passed as amended 76 to 24. The bill now goes to the Alabama Senate for their consideration.
Tuesday will be the 24th day of the 2021 Legislative Session.