By a vote of 27 to 8, the Idaho State Senate has passed a bill to increase penalties for crimes committed against persons who work in certain areas of the health care industry. Senate Bill 1351 would increase the penalty of some types of crimes committed against "any person licensed, certified or registered by the state of Idaho to provide health care, or an employee of a hospital, medical clinic or medical practice.”
Should the bill become law, the penalty for a crime would be made more severe than the same crime might draw when committed against persons who don’t work in such professions.
“This additional protection is appropriate for health care workers,” said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, as he presented the bill before the full Senate. “They are being victimized and being victimized at a higher rate. The current system isn’t working and this is a clean bill that is worthy of your support.” The bill stipulates that the nature of an alleged victim’s employment is the criteria for an enhanced penalty.
Last December, the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force heard a presentation on the concepts that became Senate Bill 1351.
In response to the proposal, Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, raised concerns about crimes against one category of individual being treated as more severe than crimes against others. “If the law is not providing an adequate deterrent, then that is true for all cases of battery,” Tippets noted. “Why do you seek to single out one sector of the population over others?”
Nonetheless, Tippets voted in favor of the bill Thursday.
During floor debate, Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, stated that he had received email from a constituent who once worked in the health care profession and who had sustained a severe head injury while on the job and was unable to work thereafter.
“This sounds to me like an act of battery,” Lakey said in response to Vick. “I don’t know the specific circumstances of this situation, but battery carries with it a 15-year sentence. I don’t believe this bill is intended to address these issues, but rather I think the bill is intended to address less severe cases.”
Lakey also noted to Vick a counterexample: “In one instance there was a nurse and respiratory therapist injured in Kootenai County, and each of the victims were out of work for several months. The suspect spent 10 days in jail, but the victims suffered with about 207 days of being out of work.”
Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Boise, opposed the bill. “This bill will put more people to prison. We are effectively setting an extremely low standard for what constitutes a battery. It is an extremely low standard, and I don’t think that it will deter conduct. It also raises concerns about the fact that we are all supposed to be treated equally under the law.”
Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, countered that “I do see this as a deterrent. Our health care workers are caring professionals who need protection.”
Vick spoke a second time: “This is an extremely difficult vote for me. I have two children that work in health care professions, although if this were law it would not impact them because they live in other states. But I have spoken with them about this, and I have also received email from mental health counselors and from some school counselors saying that they need to be included in this. It does raise the question, where do we draw the line? I also believe there are concerns about equal protection under the law. It is a difficult decision for me but I will be voting no.”
The bill now goes to the House and will be introduced in a committee.