After much debate, the House has passed HB 292, to make attacks on health care workers a felony with up to a five-year penalty, on a 40-27 vote. Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, sponsored the bill in response to concerns from Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene about increasing violent attacks against workers there, along with similar concerns from others around the state in the health care industry. It requires that the attack be made with intent to trigger the enhanced penalty, to ensure that a mentally ill patient isn’t unduly penalized.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, spoke out against the bill. “I think the bill itself brings confusion to the penalties for assault and battery,” he said. “Whether this would actually deter this behavior … is I think questionable. … I think that this bill just needs some work and probably is not appropriate at this time.” Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, questioned why attacks against health care workers should carry greater penalties than those against “the night shift at 7-11,” and said, “We’re going too far.” Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, said, “If increased penalties will solve our problem, then why are we stopping here? … I just don’t see the consistency here in our approach.”
Malek said health care workers are mandated to provide care to patients even if they’re violent, a situation that often arises in emergency rooms. The bill now moves to the Senate side.