By Bob Katzen

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would make it a felony and increase from 2.5 years to five years the maximum prison sentence that could be imposed on offenders convicted of assault or assault and battery on an emergency medical technician (EMT), ambulance operator, ambulance attendant or health care provider including doctors, nurses, social workers and chiropractors. The bill also abolishes the current 90-day mandatory sentence for the crime.

Supporters said that by eliminating the current mandatory three-month sentence but widening the range of options available to judges upon sentencing to include terms of up to five years in state prison, the bill expands judicial discretion while acknowledging the serious and violent nature of many of these crimes.

They noted that between 2011 and 2013, workplace assaults ranged from 23,540 and 35,630 annually, with some 70 percent occurring in healthcare and social service settings.

“The healthcare settings of today are complex and increasingly volatile and violent as statistics prove,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Denise Garlick (D-Needham). “Employers must be held accountable to develop and implement workplace violence prevention plans. When a nurse is stabbed … or EMT is beaten or ambulance operator is punched and kicked it is not part of the job, it is a crime.”

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