New law further protects social services workers

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Harsher penalties are in place for attacks on county social services workers under new provisions in state law.

Assault on a social services worker will be a Class D felony punishable by up to 7 years in jail. Previously, the attacks were considered Class A misdemeanors punishable by up to 1 year in jail. The changes, passed by the State Legislature in June and signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in August, went into effect Nov. 1.

Nassau and Suffolk social services commissioners lauded the harsher punishment, saying social services workers often face hostile situations.

"There are a litany of incidents where workers were assaulted, where dangerous animals were released on them," said Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory J. Blass. "Truly, they are at risk out there on assignments."

Nassau Social Services Commissioner John Imhof said the department was "gratified that the governor and the Legislature have recognized the necessity of increasing protection for all government workers who deliver social services."

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The measure was sponsored by state Sen. Martin J. Golden (R-Brooklyn) and former Assemb. Peter Rivera (D-Bronx), now state commissioner of labor. Both noted in memos to lawmakers that similar or stronger protections apply to police officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency room workers and school employees.

Jennifer Schmidt, a Suffolk County Child Protective Services caseworker who said a judge had to issue her a protective order against a client who repeatedly threatened her life, said the measure offers a sense of security.

"It sends a message that we shouldn't be treated this way," Schmidt said.

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