Lieutenant Governor Brad Little cast a rare vote March 28, breaking a tie in the Idaho Senate, and ultimately killing an effort that advocates said would have strengthened protections for healthcare workers across the state.
House Bill 292, which had already passed through the Idaho House, was designed to assaults on caregivers - particular in the state's emergency rooms - a felony.
Only 48 hours earlier, physicians and nurses told members of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee that assaults on healthcare providers had reached epidemic status.
In spite of a representative from the Kootenai Medical Center urging its passage, its representative - Coeur d'Alene Republican Sen. Bob Nonini voted against the bill, saying the legislation "goes a bit far."
The bill's sponsor in the Senate, Nampa Republican Sen. Todd Lakey told his colleagues that caregivers were regularly "in close proximity" with violent individuals.
But when the smoke cleared the Senate was deadlocked on a 17-17 tie. Ultimately, Little voted "no," killing the initiative. ORIGINAL STORY: March 27, 2013
Margaret Henbest--executive director at Nurse Leaders of Idaho--recently reached out to hundreds of her organization's members in every corner of the Gem State, asking them how long and deep a shadow the threat of violence casts over Idaho's emergency rooms and care centers.
"The first response came back within 10 minutes," said Henbest. "And the emails kept coming for days; story after story."
Henbest said she heard about attempted rape, teeth being punched out, stabbings, concussions and broken noses.
Henbest stood before Idaho lawmakers March 25, describing what she called "a culture of tolerance that allows violence against health care workers."
Henbest urged members of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee to help push House Bill 292, which would strengthen protections for Idaho health care professionals who are assaulted while on the job. In particular, HB 292 would make an assault against a health care worker a felony, much like current protections for social workers, police officers and firefighters.
"I've been assaulted twice," said Dr. Mark Urban, pediatric emergency medical director for the St. Luke's Health System. "With an increase in prescription drug abuse, we're seeing more assaults when some caregivers refuse those medications."
Urban and Henbest joined a number of caregivers advocating for more protection.
"There has been an escalation against health care workers--roughly three times as many violent crimes as any other private sector profession," said David Lehman, spokesman for Kootenai Medical Center. "Health care workers are afraid of their patients, some even hiding their identities."
Committee members agreed to move the bill forward, but some had caveats.
"The fact that we have this many assaults on our health care workers disgusts me," said Meridian Republican Sen. Marv Hagedorn. "I don't think this bill is going to stop that but we have to make an effort. It's unacceptable."
HB 292, which was introduced by freshman Coeur d'Alene Republican Rep. Luke Malek, has already been passed by the full House and now heads to the full Senate for its consideration before it can be signed into law by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.