Girgenti/Madden Bill To Upgrade Penalties For Assaulting Nurses Or Other Healthcare Workers Receives Final Approval

Senator John A. Girgenti (D-Passaic and Bergen)

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators John Girgenti (D-Passaic) and Fred Madden (Gloucester/Camden) which would upgrade the offense of assaulting a nurse or other healthcare profession to aggravated assault today received final approved in the Senate. It now heads to the desk of Governor Christie.

“Under current law, assaults against individuals in certain ‘high risk’ occupations such as law enforcement and teaching constitute aggravated assault, but physical violence against a nurse or other healthcare professional only constitutes a simple assault. This makes no sense,” said Senator Girgenti, Chairman of the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee, D-Passaic and Bergen. “Nurses devote their entire careers to saving the lives of others. They should not have to worry about putting their own safety at risk while going about their job. Hopefully, the threat of harsher penalties will serve as a deterrent for those who seek to cause them harm.”

“Health care workers are faced with the threat of violence on the job far too often,” said Senator Madden. “This bill would make the punishment for assaulting a nurse just as severe as the penalty for assaulting a law enforcement officer, volunteer firefighter, or EMT. By taking this action, we will send a clear message that we are serious about protecting the professionals who make it their life’s work to protect others. Hopefully, more severe penalties will make a potential attacker think twice before lashing out.”

The bill (A-2309/S-911) would upgrade the offense for any individual who assaults a nurse or other healthcare professional, while in the performance of his or her official duties, from a simple assault to aggravated assault. If the nurse or healthcare professional suffers bodily injury as a result of the assault, it will be classified as a third degree crime; otherwise it will be a fourth degree crime. A crime of the third degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine up to $15,000, or both. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment for not more than 18 months, a fine up to $10,000, or both. Simple assault is classified as a disorderly persons offense, which carries a penalty of up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Current law upgrades simple assault to aggravated assault, regardless of the severity of the injury inflicted, only if the victim is: a law enforcement officer; a volunteer firefighter; an emergency first-aid or medical services worker; a school employee or official; an employee of the Division of Youth and Family Services; a judge; a bus driver or rail passenger service worker; a corrections employee, probation officer, or sheriff’s officer; or a utility employee.

The bill would add to this list licensed healthcare workers. It would not apply to patients or residents at State or county psychiatric hospitals, State developmental centers, or veterans’ memorial homes who are classified as having a mental illness or developmental disability.

Already, assaults on nurses are classified as a felony in the State of New York, and as of January other healthcare workers have been added to augment the existing law. Laws similar to this bill have already been enacted in Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, and New Mexico.

The Assembly approved the bill in October by a vote of 77-1. The Senate passed it by a vote of 35-0.

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