The Wyoming Senate voted Monday for legislation that would create harsher penalties for serious assaults against health care workers, but not before stripping the tough punishments from the bill.
In fact, after a series of seemingly contradictory changes, the legislation now being considered would actually make aggravated assault against health care providers less of a crime than attacking someone else.
During a debate Monday on the Senate floor, lawmakers passed an amendment to classify serious attacks on health care providers as aggravated assaults. But they defeated a second revision that would have created a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison.
As a result, the bill now calls for a maximum penalty of only one year in jail, even though Wyoming punishes other forms of aggravated assault by up to a decade in prison.
“It means you have a lesser penalty, if we pass this bill right now, for assaulting health care workers than anybody else,” Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, told his colleagues.
Recognizing the problems with the bill, Scott and others recommended revising the legislation before the Senate considers it a second time. The Senate must vote for the bill three times before it moves on to the House of Representatives.
The legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Leslie Nutting, is designed to address crimes against nurses, paramedics and other health care providers. In an earlier committee meeting, workers testified to assaults they’ve suffered at the hands of patients. One woman suffered arm injury that required three surgeries. An emergency medical technician described being intentionally splattered with blood by a patient who claimed to have hepatitis C.
The bill originally called for a year-long jail sentence for attacks on health care workers. Last week, a Senate committee recommended amending the bill to address only aggravated assaults, which are more serious. The committee also proposed the 12-year maximum penalty.
In the Senate on Monday, Nutting argued health care workers deserved added protections in the law.
“That is consistent with what we do for police and firemen, recognizing the extra hazard of their occupation,” she said.
But other lawmakers, including Senate President Tony Ross, questioned the need for the legislation. They argued Wyoming’s existing aggravated assault statute would cover serious crimes against health care workers.
“Why do we even need this when we already have in statute simple assault and aggravated assault?” asked Ross, a lawyer.
The Senate briefly discussed sending the back to the committee but determined that wasn’t possible. Lawmakers then decided to move the legislation forward, with the idea that it can be revised along the way.