LOS ANGELES (AP) _ California officials are unveiling a proposed bill that would make it a crime to drop off hospital patients on the street.
It comes in response to accusations that hospitals and law enforcement agencies from outside Los Angeles have left patients and criminals on the streets of the downtown area known as Skid Row without taking them to a mission or service provider.
Most recently, a paraplegic man wearing a colostomy bag was left in a gutter.
Authorities said they are investigating 55 cases of suspected ``dumping'' of people on Skid Row. They have had trouble building criminal cases because there isn't a state law that prohibits leaving patients on the streets.
The new legislation was to be introduced Thursday by state Sen. Gil Cedillo, who represents a section of Los Angeles that includes Skid Row. The proposal would make it a misdemeanor for any hospital facility or worker to transport patients anywhere other than their residences without their informed consent.
Individual offenders could be punished by up to two years in jail and possibly face a fine of up to $1,000. Healthcare facilities that violate the law could be hit with penalties of up to $10,000.
The Hospital Association of Southern California expressed concern about the proposed legislation.
``The problem goes back to the lack of social services for homeless and indigent patients who end up in hospitals,'' said Jennifer Bayer, the group's public affairs director. ``We are already spending $2 billion in uncompensated care providing medical treatment for indigent patients. Imposing fines or arresting people is not productive.''
The city attorney's office has filed false imprisonment charges against Kaiser Permanente for the suspected dumping of a homeless woman on Skid Row last year. The charges have never been tested in court and some legal experts wonder whether they will hold up.
Meanwhile, police officials told hospitals on Wednesday that officers would arrest anyone they saw dumping patients on Skid Row, using the false imprisonment charge.
``Enough is enough,'' Capt. Andy Smith said. ``We are going to book these guys.''