NASHVILLE - Fending off critics on the House floor, Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, Monday night passed her bill beefing up criminal penalties for people who assault doctors, nurses and other health providers acting in the course of their duties.
The bill passed 64-31 and now goes to the Senate where the bill is being handled by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, a physician and health care administrator.
In other action, the House voted 94-1 and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill requiring public notices to be published on a newspaper's website. It also maintains existing requirements for public notices to be published in newspapers' print editions.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman. Haynes said the Tennessee Press Association-backed bill would not allow newspapers to charge more for online notices. The TPA says is promotes more governmental transparency.
Favors bill, meanwhile, drew criticism from several Republicans. It doubles fines for convictions on assault charges from $2,500 to $5,000 and triples them in convictions on aggravated assault against affected providers, going from $5,000 to $15,000. Current law allows that for assaults on police.
Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet, opposed the bill, charging in an apparent allusion to "Jim Crow" laws discriminating against blacks that states once passed laws saying "some people are better than others."
She said "this is singling out people just because they have a certain occupation," calling it a "slippery slope" and questioning "who will be here next. I also believe that everybody needs equal protection under the law and that's what this country is all about."
Favors, a retired nurse who is black, said the legislation is necessary because "there has been such a high incidence" of assaults on health care providers. More than 25 states are considering similar legislation she said.
"When you have such an increased demand for health care workers, we believe this would have circumvented and prevented some of the workplace violence we have been experiencing," Favors said.
Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, said the bill is "creating a protected class. ... This won't do anything to stop criminal conduct because they don't know what the penalty is."
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, pointed out the increased sanctions are identical for those assaulting police officers.
The bill has several Republican sponsors.