Lawmakers consider state worker safety after beating death

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois lawmakers stepped up efforts Tuesday to better protect state workers in vulnerable positions after the death of a child welfare worker who was severely beaten last fall.

Two pieces of legislation have been introduced in response to the attack on Department of Children and Family Services caseworker Pamela Knight. She was beaten in Milledgeville last September while she was trying to take protective custody of a child. Knight died from her injuries in February.

One of the proposals stalled in the House. Rep. Tony McCombie sponsored a measure to stiffen criminal penalties for attacking DCFS employees.

McCombie’s measure would make attacking a DCFS employee aggravated battery, a felony. It hit a snag last week when the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary-Criminal Committee rejected it. But the Savanna Republican implored her colleagues to give it a rehearing during a state Capitol news conference Tuesday. She pointed out her measure would simply create the same penalty for DCFS workers that already exists for prison guards and caseworkers for the Department of Human Services.

Members of Knight’s family — including her husband, Don, and daughter, Jennifer Hollenback — accompanied McCombie at the news conference.

Hollenback said the committee’s vote sent the wrong message. She pleaded with lawmakers, “Please go back and provide these workers with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

The measure also resonated with Trina Mayfield, a DCFS worker from Cairo, who has been off work since February after a woman whose child was taken into DCFS custody attacked Mayfield with a knife in the state office.

“When we go out and do a service for the public, we need to be protected while doing our job,” she said.

Sen. Michael Hastings, a Tinley Park Democrat, wants attention paid to violence against other state workers.

His legislation , which moved to the Senate floor after committee approval Tuesday, would require DCFS and the Departments of Corrections, Human Services and Juvenile Justice to record and issue quarterly reports of violent incidents against state workers so officials may review the data for scope and trends. It has the backing of the state’s largest public sector union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Aleana Lewis, a prison guard at Pontiac Correctional Center, was one of six officers injured in 2016 during an inmate fight. Publicity would be eye-opening, Lewis said, adding that what happened to her “is only a drop in the bucket of the violence that’s happening in our prison system that the public and the General Assembly don’t really hear about.”