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Malek points to ‘misconceptions’ on health assault bill; Nonini faults Malek’s ethics

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene (Betsy Russell)
Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene (Betsy Russell)

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, a former Kootenai County deputy prosecutor whose first bill as an Idaho state representative was defeated on a tied Senate vote today – a tie that was broken by a no vote from Lt. Gov. Brad Little – said, “I’m disappointed that it was defeated this year, but confident that once we iron out the misconceptions voiced in the floor debate, we will be successful next year.”

Malek said Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, was mistaken when he said the bill would make it a felony to just assault a health care worker with words. “There is no such thing as verbal assault,” Malek said. He pointed to Idaho Code 18-901, which includes the “by word or act” phrase to which Nonini referred in the Senate debate. The full section defines an assault as:

“(a) An unlawful attempt, coupled with apparent ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another; or

(b) An intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.”

So a verbal threat alone, Malek said, isn’t an assault.

In addition, Malek objected to an email Nonini sent to the director of emergency and trauma services at Kootenai Medical Center, which has been pushing for the bill, questioning Malek’s ethics for sponsoring it. “It sure appears as a conflict that Luke Malek did not disclose that he was doing this as a favor to his father and KMC,” Nonini wrote. “Young Luke needs to understand that we expect more transparency in government that Luke is willing to concede.”

Both of Malek’s parents are doctors; his dad is an emergency room physician and his mom is in family practice; both practice in Coeur d'Alene and have done so for more than 20 years. Malek, 31, said he first heard about the issue at an Idaho Medical Association legislative meeting in Coeur d’Alene, and there’s no conflict between his father’s profession and his sponsorship of the bill.

Malek said of Nonini, “This isn’t the first time he’s impugned my character. He makes a habit out of telling people to follow the money if he disagrees with whatever decision I’m making.” Malek said as a lawyer, he’s especially sensitive to allegations of ethics violations. “You’ve got to get out ahead of ethics complaints,” he said. “An accusation can sometimes be as damaging as an actual violation.”

He added, “I think what we are seeing in Bob’s case is mostly frustration with an inability, once again, to create any sort of coherent legislative agenda on his own behalf. That would be about the only explanation for his inability to correctly construe the plain meaning of rules, which he should, by now, be very familiar with.”

Malek said he welcomes a chance to work more on HB 292 and make sure senators are informed about the issues behind it; KMC and other health care providers in the state have cited a growing tide of violent attacks against health care workers in calling for the felony-penalty bill. Said Malek, “It’s another opportunity to make something that I think is great better. I think a lot of that is just explaining things, like the ‘verbal assault.’”

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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