Legislation to impose felony penalties on patients who violently attack health care workers has passed the Senate, 27-8. A similar bill died in the Senate last year on a 17-17 tied vote after passing the House; this year’s bill, put forth by the Idaho Medical Association, has a number of changes designed to address senators’ concerns. Among them: The maximum penalty was lowered from five years to three, and the health worker provisions were separated from existing laws about attacks on EMTs and police officers.
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, asked sponsor Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, repeated questions about individual examples of attacks, asking whether each of them could have already been charged as felonies under existing laws. Lakey, an attorney, responded to each, saying some of them could have, and some not; and in one specific example involving an attack on nurses and other workers at Kootenai Medical Center, he said the attacker was charged with misdemeanor battery.
Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said, “If we pass this, it will put more people in prison, and it will be used to use technical violations of this to induce pleas that will put people into prison. Effectively what we’re doing is we’re setting an extremely low standard for a felony. … We’re saying it’s going to be a felony under this category for an unwanted touching.”
Lakey said, “Senators, the current misdemeanor approach is not working. … It’s aimed at purposely violent individuals and repeat offenders. … It seeks to make violence against health care professionals a higher priority within our community.” He said, “This is a clean bill, it responds to a real need, and it helps decrease violence against those who serve and are victimized because of that service.” The bill now moves to a House committee.