An attempt by the Idaho Department of Labor to put in enhanced penalties on anyone who commits assault or battery on a labor department employee is stalled in a Senate committee. Currently, stiffer penalties apply to anyone attacking law enforcement or corrections officials, some social service workers and medical personnel, and State Tax Commission employees. Offenders could face prison sentences of up to 25 years.
Labor department administrator Dwight Johnson told the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee Monday that there has been a rise in threats of department workers. “Our director, Roger Madsen, does have a concern about the safety of the staff,” he said. “We have had many threats and actual physical cases where that has happened in the past.” He said the department has hired more security guards, and offered anecdotal evidence about threats to workers. The state labor department handles unemployment insurance claims and audits businesses to make sure they’re paying into the unemployment fund. “This is an ongoing issue for our employees, (including) our tax collectors as they go out to conduct audits of employers, also our claims investigators as they’re attempting to collect fraudulent overpayment of benefits. Unfortunately, with the length of the recession, we’re having a lot more stressful situations.”
Members of the committee weren’t completely convinced that labor department employees deserve added protection. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said the department could be using the pretense of the recession to be added to the select list. “We’re not protecting the governor, the senators, [or] the House members,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said the listed employees tended to be those who dealt with more violent people in Idaho. “I’m not hearing the justification I thought I might hear for why all employees [in the labor department] are subject to the enhanced consequences,” she said.
Johnson responded that many department employees handling claims and audits deal with very emotional people. “There are sometimes threats to them,” he said. “We feel it’s prudent to have a deterrent.” Davis wasn’t convinced that a stiffer penalty for an attack would deter would-be attackers.
Similar legislation listing all state employees as protected by longer prison terms for assault hasn’t made it out of a House committee. Johnson said the labor department will revisit the broader House plan after seeing little support in the Senate committee. Read IdahoReporter.com’s coverage of the position from the governor’s office on the issue. The full text of the Senate bill that’s currently stalled in committee is available here and the similar House bill is available here.