Tennessee health care workers took a lengthy verbal battering from Sen. Ophelia Ford during a judiciary committee discussion Tuesday on a bill to stiffen criminal penalties for perpetrators of physical assault against medical industry employees.
The Memphis Democrat meandered through an intense and intimate declamation against “mean and hateful” nurses she’s encountered during various hospital stays over the years.
While granting that the nurses of whom she spoke weren’t likely representative of Tennessee health care workers as a whole, Ford submitted that for employees in the field “to come before this committee and ask for this kind of thing is ludicrous to me.”
Thanks to Twitter, video of Ford’s impromptu speech was quickly making the rounds on the Internet Wednesday morning.
While she was the most outspoken, Ford was not the only dissenter. Knoxville Sen. Stacey Campfield, who said his sister is a nurse, declared his opposition to the bill as well. Crafting harsher punishments for crimes against people working politically favored occupations constitutes a “slippery slope,” he said.
“Assault is assault,” Campfield said. “If you assault me or you assault a window-washer or the guy who mows your yard, I think everyone should be punished equally for that.”
Committee member Brian Kelsey has voiced similar criticism.
“What (Senate Bill 2658) does is it increases penalties based on the nature of the victim,” the Germantown Republican said during a Feb. 7 hearing on the proposal. “I think that is a very dangerous road to go down.”
“Part of our U.S. Constitution says that no state shall deprive any of the persons found in its jurisdiction of equal protection of the laws,” he added.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Adams, defended the bill on the grounds that it was based on “empirical data” which he said shows that a “very high percentage of assaults that take place, take place on health care workers.”
The bill did eventually pass the committee after a 5-4 vote, with chairwoman Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, joining Sens. Kelsey, Campfield and Ford in opposition.