Utility Worker Protection Bill Clears Georgia House Committee |  News

ATLANTA (AP) — Criminals who attack utility workers in Georgia would face increased fines and prison sentences under a bill approved Wednesday by a state House of Representatives committee.

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the Utility Workers Protection Act and sent it to the House Rules Committee for a vote on the House floor.

House Bill 1033 is a follow-up to a law the General Assembly passed last year that imposes stricter penalties for intentionally damaging “critical infrastructure,” including electricity, water, sewers, telecommunications, public transportation and public transportation systems, hospitals, as well emergency medical and rescue services.

“Last year we protected infrastructure,” Rep. Rob Leverett, R-Elberton, the bill’s lead sponsor, told committee members. “Now we’re trying to provide additional protection to the people who work on and maintain that infrastructure.”

Lee Swann, an investigator with the Georgia Transmission Corp., said attacks and threats of violence occur not only to electrical workers but also to employees in the telecommunications industry.

“It’s a very real problem for us,” he said. “These are the people who build the services to keep businesses running and your constituents online.”

Craig Camuso, regional vice president of government affairs for rail freight line CSX Corp., said rail workers and forest rangers who clear rights-of-way are also increasingly becoming victims.

“This is happening more and more often,” he said. “People are becoming more and more brazen.”

Leverett's bill would increase the penalties that could be imposed on utility employees for several categories of crimes, including simple assault, aggravated assault, simple assault and aggravated assault. Those found guilty of aggravated assault or aggravated assault face prison sentences of three to 20 years.

The legislation stipulates that increased penalties apply only to attacks on utility employees who were carrying out their official duties at the time of the offense.