By Cole Grant/UM Legislative Service

HELENA - Montana lawmakers heard testimony for and against House Bill 268 Monday, which would make it a felony to purposefully or knowingly assault a health care provider or emergency responder.

The bill would set a penalty for the crime of up to 10 years in prison, up to a $50,000 fine, or both.

Proponents of the bill, many of whom were nurses, shared personal stories of being attacked on the job.

Peggy Verploegen, an emergency room nurse from Havre told the House Judiciary Committee that when she was attacked, her perspective on caring for patients changed.

“I can care for them, but I don’t care about them nearly as much as I did before, and that’s sad,” Verploegen said.

Opponents to the bill said protections are already in place. SK Rossi with the Montana ACLU said there are better ways to deal with these issues.

“The best thing for deterring crime is interventions on the front end. Mental health care, jail diversion programs, things like that,” Rossi said.

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.