The Montana Nurses Association is touring the state of Montana this month, trying to get the public on board with upcoming legislation that could change the way crimes against healthcare professionals are handled in court. Montana Nurses Association Executive Director Vicky Byrd explains.

"What we are going to bring forth is a law that makes it a felony to assault a nurse or healthcare worker while they are on duty," Byrd said. "This would be similar to the way attacks against police officers or even police dogs are handled, because they are in a protected class."

Byrd says 22 other states already have similar laws, and that Montana’s will cover CNA’s and even lab techs who provide direct patient care, as well as first responders. Those suffering from mental illness will not be immediately excused from felony charges.

"Just because they have a mental illness or have abused drugs or alcohol is not necessarily an excuse not to prosecute, but those that are truly severely mentally ill or have developmental disabilities, or it's your 95-year-old grandmother who has low blood sugar and smacks you... those would not be charged with a felony," Byrd said.

Byrd says attacks against health providers happen regularly in Montana, but are under reported. Republican legislator Ed Buttrey of Great Falls has said he will carry the legislation.