Politics in California | Why tougher penalties for assaults on emergency room staff are dividing California Democrats

A bill that will toughen penalties for attacks on hospital emergency room staff, like other recently passed tough-on-crime laws, is facing the identical opposition from progressive Democrats who fear rising incarceration rates.

Before becoming a member of the California Assembly, Freddie Rodriguez worked as an emergency medical technician within the San Gabriel Valley for 30 years, pushing countless patients on stretchers into hospital emergency rooms.

And he's seen all too often what happens when one in all them tries to harm caregivers. In fact, it recently happened to his daughter Desirae, a respiratory technician. He told the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that she was recently attacked at work.

“This violence is unacceptable,” Rodriguez testified. “But for many of our healthcare heroes, workplace violence is simply part of their job.”

The problem prompted Rodriguez to introduce Assembly Bill 977that will increase penalties to at least one 12 months in prison for people convicted of attacking doctors, nurses and other staff in emergency rooms at California hospitals. But the bill has an uncertain future as a consequence of opposition from progressive Democrats who’ve spent the past decade trying to scale back the variety of inmates within the state's overcrowded prisons. In fact, former Gov. Jerry Brown, facing a U.S. Supreme Court order to scale back the state's prison population, vetoed an analogous bill by Rodriguez. in 2015.

These tensions were evident when the bill narrowly passed the Senate Public Safety Committee earlier this week.

The liberal Democratic Senators on the Security Committee from the San Francisco Bay Area, Scott Wiener And Nancy Skinnerrejected the law. They were on the side of the California Public Defenders Association and prison reform advocates who argue that increasing sentences won’t deter crime and that there are already laws prohibiting assault.

Former Governor Brown made an identical argument in his 2015 veto message.

“If there was evidence that an additional six months in county jail … would improve the safety of these workers or act as a deterrent, I would sign this bill,” Brown wrote. “I doubt it would do either.”

At this week's hearing, opponents of the bill also argued that lots of the attacks in emergency rooms are committed by patients who’re in mental health crisis.

“We now recognize that because of the lack of mental health resources … the emergency room is the place where people with mental health crises are taken,” Skinner said. “And penalties like these are not a deterrent for people who lack judgment.”

However, Skinner didn’t vote on the bill, which counts as a no vote. When Rodriguez's bill passed the National Assembly earlier this 12 months, 12 lawmakers didn’t vote – most of them progressive Democrats who’re wary of tougher penalties. As CalMatters reportedMPs recurrently avoid voting on controversial bills in order to not upset their colleagues or to suppress their opposition on sensitive issues. There isn’t any distinction for MPs who abstain or are absent.

Rep. Freddie Rodriguez speaks to fellow lawmakers during a plenary session at the State Capitol in Sacramento on April 4, 2024. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters
Rep. Freddie Rodriguez speaks to fellow lawmakers during a plenary session on the State Capitol in Sacramento on April 4, 2024. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

Republican Senator from Murrieta. Kelly Seyartowho prior to now had only joined the California Medical Association in 45% of cases, was clearly on the side of the doctors this time.
As a former battalion chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, he has experienced many violent medical missions.

He told his committee colleagues that the laws was “long overdue.”

“I personally know a nurse who was disabled after being attacked and thrown to the ground,” Seyarto said. “She had a head injury and was never able to work again. She was never able to work again. And there was nothing mentally wrong with the person who did this. He was just crazy.”

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