A bill to alert California regulators to dangerous or incompetent health care workers and speed up discipline against them died Thursday in a legislative committee after mustering only one favorable vote -- from the senator who sponsored the measure.
The vote marked a defeat for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a victory for labor unions and some groups of health professionals who objected to its central provisions.
Schwarzenegger had made fixing the system a priority after ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times reported in July that dangerous nurses were able to keep practicing for years in California despite accusations of misconduct, abuse or neglect.
Had it passed, the measure would have had far-reaching impact by standardizing the disciplinary process for the state’s 1 million licensed health care professionals, including dentists, psychologists, chiropractors and others monitored by more than a dozen boards.
The largest number of licensees – 350,000 – is under the Board of Registered Nursing.
In the works for 10 months, the bill became increasingly contentious as the committee vote loomed this week. Among those raising objections were the politically powerful California Nurses Association and Service Employees International Union.
Much of the opposition centered on steps that would have brought California in line with other states, such as requiring employers to report workers who are fired or suspended for serious wrongdoing and allowing officials to quickly suspend workers who pose a threat to the public.
In response to critics, Democratic Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod removed the latter provision. Just before the vote she also amended two other controversial provisions.
Bonnie Castillo, director of government relations for the California Nurses Association, said the union agreed with certain parts of the bill. But the mandatory reporting requirement would have heaped more work on an already backlogged nursing board, she said.
Brian Stiger, the director of the Department of Consumer Affairs, lamented the bill’s defeat and noted that some beneficial provisions weren’t contested by anyone. Stiger’s agency oversees the state’s 19 health licensing boards.
Among other things, the bill would have allowed the dental and medical boards and the Division of Investigation to hire less-expensive investigators to help eliminate the backlog of cases. Professionals convicted of a felony could be automatically suspended; refusing to cooperate with an investigation could be considered unprofessional conduct.
Negrete McLeod postponed the vote for three days to search for support.
It didn’t work. Republican Sen. Mark Wyland voted no, offsetting McLeod’s vote, and the four remaining senators present chose not to vote at all, effectively killing the measure.
"While this failed today, I’m like the little engine that could and I will try another way," said Negrete McLeod, who chairs the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee.
Schwarzenegger’s office issued a statement praising Negrete McLeod and accusing lawmakers who refused to vote of jeopardizing patient safety. "By not voting for this bill today, these members are saying they side with protecting incompetent providers," the statement said.
Democrats Leland Yee, Ron Calderon, Dean Florez and Jenny Oropeza remained silent as their names were called. Three other committee members didn’t show up: Republicans Sam Aanestad and Mimi Walters and Democrat Lou Correa.