Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) have introduced legislation they named “Protect the Frontline,” creating a Class H felony for threats of violence made against hospital staff and health care providers. The measure was co-authored by Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Rep. Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser) and received a hearing in the State Assembly on Feb. 9.
Under current law, including through changes pursued by WHA in 2019, battery against a hospital staff member or health care worker can already be charged as a Class H felony. Assembly Bill 960
, introduced by Sens. LeMahieu and Wanggaard and Reps. Vos and Magnafici, would add threats of violence as a Class H felony.
WHA Senior Vice President of Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk testified alongside WHA General Counsel Matthew Stanford and Gundersen Health System Clinical Manager of Medical and Oncology Clark Draxler in support of Assembly Bill 960.
“Over the past decade, threats and violence against those working in health care have continued to rise,” said Zenk in testimony before the committee
. “Increasing threats to our health care workers’ safety, increased burnout and increasing workforce shortages make it imperative to provide every strategy possible to turn the tide, including the important and appreciated prevention strategy the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety is considering in AB 960.”
Joining the chorus of health care representatives testifying in support of AB 960 was UW Health Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive Rudy Jackson, who provided a poignant, firsthand account of rising aggression toward health care workers. “We encourage staff to use our online reporting system called HERO to report incidents that violate our zero tolerance for violence policy,” he related. “Since the HERO system went live about six months ago, we have been averaging 40 reports each month.”
This new law would be similar to laws already in place for threats made against law enforcement officers, officers of the court and certain state employees at the Department of Safety and Professional Services, Department of Workforce Development and Department of Revenue. The Legislature is also considering bills in this session that would add felony crimes for threats made against parole agents and public officials, including state and local elected officials.
In addition to WHA’s testimony before the committee, a coalition of 18 statewide health care provider organizations led by WHA provided written testimony
to the committee in support of Assembly Bill 960.