Lawmakers have taken a step towards better protecting public transit employees by passing a proposal to study a new offense against individuals who assault them. The bill, introduced by Rep. DeAnna Hodges, would establish aggravated assault against a public transit employee as a Class C felony, carrying a minimum sentence of 90 days and a mandatory fine of $10,000. Transit officials have reported an increase in incidents of assault against workers in recent years.
Joel Gardner, executive director for the Ozark Regional Transit Authority, shared his own experiences of being assaulted while on the job. He expressed frustration that defendants often receive lesser charges and avoid facing the consequences of their actions. Adam Waddell, director of Razorback Transit for the University of Arkansas, voiced support for the bill, emphasizing the need to hold individuals accountable for attacking transit workers.
— Filtered News (@filterednews) November 2, 2023
However, some lawmakers questioned the necessity of including public transit employees in this statute. Rep. Andrew Collins expressed concern that the existing law, created to address public disturbances and riots, already covers similar offenses. Sen. Alan Clark also questioned the need for this bill, as aggravated assault is already illegal.
Prosecutor Coordinator Bob McNab argued that the proposed legislation would add elements that are not present in regular aggravated assault cases and would increase the penalty for such crimes. Ken Savage, City of Fort Smith Transit Director, suggested that posting signage warning about the consequences of assaulting transit workers could act as a deterrent.
In conclusion, while the bill aims to protect public transit employees from assault, some question its necessity and argue that existing laws are sufficient. However, with the increasing number of incidents, it is clear that additional measures may be needed to ensure the safety and well-being of these essential workers.