SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – State lawmakers want to know if a law meant to protect health care workers from physical attacks is actually hurting some patients. It’s a felony to attack a doctor, nurse or anyone else who works in the health industry, but this joint memorial aims to reevaluate that felony punishment.
“There’s been an issue raised about whether charging people with a felony who have been mentally ill who are in our institutions or developmentally disabled is possibly distancing them and penalizing them creating an additional barrier to any future rehabilitation efforts,” said Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D- Albuquerque).
In Senate Joint Memorial 5, it would create a study to collect data on how often health care workers get attacked, the effectiveness of that felony charge to deter that kind of workplace violence and how often people with mental or developmental disabilities have been charged with that crime, to name a few.
Years ago, the state made it a felony aggravated assault charge if someone attacked a health care worker, but hospital representatives told lawmakers when that law was created, it was aimed to deter violent criminals from harming doctors and nurses, but instead, this law could be hurting people who need help the most.
“I find it troublesome that we’ve been felonizing people’s behavior which is a manifestation of the exact reason why they’re brought into the emergency room in the first place,” said Senator Daniel Ivey Soto (D- Albuquerque).
This was unanimously passed in the Senate Rules Committee, it now moves onto the Senate Public Affairs Committee. The state’s Human Services Department will oversee this study, which they estimate could cost about $300.