SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation to strengthen penalties for people who injure or kill emergency management workers and volunteers while they are responding to an emergency. The new law also increases penalties for individuals who attempt to prevent emergency management workers from performing their jobs and imposes a mandatory sentence of natural life in prison for first degree murder of an emergency management worker.
“Whether responding to tornadoes, floods, major vehicle accidents or house fires, emergency management workers are out there on the front lines, often shoulder to shoulder with other first responders like police and firefighters,” said Blagojevich. “We already impose higher penalties on those who harm a police officer or firefighter in the line of duty, and it’s only right that we do the same for our dedicated emergency management workers.”
Sponsored by Rep. Dan Reitz (D-Sparta) and Sen. William Haine (D-Alton), Senate Bill 190 increases penalties for violence against emergency management workers while they are performing their duties. Workers include both paid and volunteer workers for local and county emergency management agencies, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and any other local, state or federal agencies assisting in disaster response.
“Anyone who attempts to harm or interfere with the work of any type of first responder deserves the strongest penalties possible,” said Rep. Reitz. “During a crisis, we all depend on these workers, many of whom are unpaid volunteers serving their communities in a time of need. We cannot tolerate anyone who endangers the lives of these public servants.”
“The work emergency management workers do is hard and sometimes dangerous,” said Sen. Haine. “It is unthinkable that someone would try to interfere with their work or harm them, but if they do this should send a strong message that we won’t stand for that in Illinois.”
Tom Smith, president of the Illinois Emergency Services Management Association, applauded the governor’s signing of SB 190.
“We appreciate the Governor’s recognition of the important work that emergency management plays in responding to emergencies,” Smith said. “The enactment of this legislation provides further protection to those who are on the front lines serving those in need.”
Emergency management workers often find themselves in harms way – whether responding to a disaster or an emergency. This legislation will serve as a strong deterrent for Illinoisans to be careful when they encounter emergency workers and builds on Governor Blagojevich’s public safety efforts – especially on the roads. Just this week, the Governor announced that a record 86% of drivers are wearing their seatbelts, up ten percent from just two years ago. At the same time, 2005 is on pace to record the fewest number of persons killed on Illinois highways since 1924. Forty-one fewer people have lost their lives on Illinois highways during the first six months this year than the same time period last year.
Senate Bill 190 was unanimously approved by the General Assembly. The new provisions go into effect January 1, 2006.