HARTFORD — Lawmakers are weighing legislation that would make threatening a Department of Children and Families worker a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz testified in support of the legislation during a public hearing Tuesday before the General Assembly’s Committee on Children. The bill is part of the agency’s legislative agenda, and was crafted in response to a series of threats and assaults against social workers, Katz said.
Lara Sobel, a social worker at the Department of Children and Families in Vermont, was shot and killed by a woman in August after the woman lost custody of her child, authorities say. This “senseless death” was the “impetus” for the legislation proposed in Connecticut, Katz told the committee. A dozen social workers have lost their lives in similar circumstances over the past two decades, she noted.
The pending legislation would make threatening a social worker, supervisor, manager, case worker, case aide or investigator employed by DCF a class C felony, which is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 10 years. In addition, those found guilty of threatening a DCF worker could face a fine of up to $10,000.
Under current law, first-degree threatening is a class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. A person can be sentenced to up to a year in prison if found guilty of second-degree threatening, a class A misdemeanor.
State Rep. Pam Staneski, R-Milford, a member of the committee, asked Katz if independent contractors who work with DCF would fall under the legislation. Katz said contractors are not covered by the legislation, but that she would not oppose changes to the bill to include contractors.
“I think it is great legislation and I applaud you for bringing it forward,” Staneski said.
Under the legislation, an individual is guilty of threatening a DCF employee if they convey a threat to instill fear in the worker. A person is also guilty if the threat is conveyed because the individual believes that the DCF employee “inadequately performed a function of his or her job or is hostile toward” the employee. The provisions of the legislation don’t apply to children in DCF custody.