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DENVER - A house bill granting emergency medical technicians and paramedics the same protections against assailants as police officers and firefighters was referred to the Judicial Committee for further review Wednesday.

"Our people are out there every day trying to help the public to the best of their ability. They deserve equal protection under the law," Denver Health's Chief paramedic Scott Bookman said.

The bill's sponsor is Centennial Republican Senator David Balmer.

Balmer urged members of the Senate Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Wednesday afternoon to send the bill to the Senate floor.

"People don't differentiate between paramedics and peace officers. If you slug a cop, it's a very serious felony. But, if you slug a paramedic, it's not. We want to make sure those two penalties are made the same, so we can protect all our first responders," Balmer said.

The committee's chair, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D – Adams County), recommended the bill be sent to the judiciary committee for further review, because the legislation looks at one specific job description within an industry and would alter how Colorado law is applied.

The committee voted 3-2 to send the legislation to that committee.

Under current Colorado law, it is a felony to assault a police officer or a firefighter (or a paramedic working as a firefighter).

"It's not unusual to go on a call and be hit, punched, kicked or spit on. It's time for the public to understand," Bookman said. "It happens on a weekly, if not daily."

The bill, if passed, would require mandatory jail time for a person convicted of assaulting a paramedic or EMT.

Any person convicted of murdering an emergency medical service provider would face life in prison without parole, the same punishment for murder of a peace officer or firefighter.

"All responders facing medical emergencies are facing the same threats," Bookman said. "And we'd like to think that when we respond, there is no threat to us, but in reality there is."

The law would protect both paid and volunteer EMTs and paramedics.

The bill passed the House Appropriations Committee on April 11 without any amendments. Colorado law requires any bill that would increase prison time in state facilities to be heard by that committee.

The bill must make it to the senate floor before the end of the current session May 7, or it will have to be reintroduced next year.

"It's just frustrating to me," paramedic Dustin Morgan said. "To me it says they don't care. I wanted to ask, 'should we keep a tally of how many providers are assaulted between the time you [review this bill] and the time you make your decision?'"

Currently, 38 states have passed similar legislation protecting EMTs and paramedics.

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