A bill filed this week by Democratic Deputy Whip Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, could impact a homeowner’s right to self defense, and grant utility workers the same status afforded police and firefighters.
It would also create another special class of victim.
SB-100, Assault or Battery on a Utility Worker, increases the penalties for crimes against electric or gas company employees or their vendors on private property.
The bill defines a utility worker as a “person who bears at least one patch or emblem that is visible at all times and that clearly identifies the employing or contracting utility and that clearly identifies the person as a utility worker under contract with or employed by an entity that owns, operates, leases, or controls a plant, property, or facility for the generation, transmission, or furnishing to or for the public of electricity, natural or manufactured gas, water, telephone, or communications service, including two or more utilities rendering joint service.”
The bill, and specifically the language about patches, stems from an incident that occurred several years ago. Two contract employees working for a utility company hopped a six-foot chain link fence, seeking to turn off a homeowner’s power for nonpayment of his bill.
Since it was summer, the pair left their shirts – which bore patches identifying them as power company contractors – in their vehicle, and were wearing only white t-shirts. Their van was similarly unmarked.
When he saw that two strangers had hopped his fence, the homeowner armed himself with a shotgun and ordered the pair to stop. He fired a warning shot into the air when the contractors continued.
“Imagine being charged with a crime for chasing someone off your property that you believe is a trespasser, and going to prison for protecting your home and family,” said Marion P. Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and an NRA past president. “This bill would elevate utility workers to the same status as sworn law enforcement officers and first responders. With that status, it would provide enhanced criminal penalties for chasing utility workers off your property who come on your property without your permission.”
According to the bill the enhanced penalties include:
— In the case of assault, from a misdemeanor of the second degree to a misdemeanor of the first degree.
— In the case of battery, from a misdemeanor of the first degree to a felony of the third degree.
— In the case of aggravated assault, from a felony of the third degree to a felony of the second degree.
— In the case of aggravated battery, from a felony of the second degree to a felony of the first degree.