Nurse staffing bill faces roadblock in the House

A bill that would require Minnesota hospitals to meet national standards on nurse staffing appears headed for a roadblock in the Legislature.

The chair of the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee says she doesn’t intend to hold a hearing on the bill unless the Minnesota Nurses Association and the hospitals start getting closer to a compromise on the issue.

The union is lobbying hard for the legislation because it says nurse staffing levels in some hospitals are too low and could put patients in danger.

The House Government Operations Committee approved the bill last week and referred it to the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee. But Rep. Tina Liebling,DFL-Rochester, said she’s not planning to hold a hearing on the bill this year. She said she’s not sure creating staffing standards is the best answer.

“I think it goes way too far in that respect because we don’t measure inputs anymore,” Liebling said. “We measure outcomes. We have hospitals that are very different across the state and one sized fits all really doesn’t work.”

Liebling said she intends to push the union and the hospitals to reach an agreement on the matter.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said he’ll keep pushing for a hearing on his bill.

“I think we gain a great deal on not just this bill but on all bills by getting a good amount of public input and input from both sides and it contributes to a better solution,” Atkins said.

Nurse staffing standards have been debated in the Legislature for roughly a decade. The bill has made little traction in past years, but the DFL-controlled Legislature has made the nurse’s union more hopeful about their chances.

The union’s political fund spent $450,000 to help Democrats win control of both chambers of the Legislature in 2012. The union also gave $50,000 to the Alliance for a Better Minnesota to help Democrats win.

The Minnesota Hospital Association spent $65,000 to help elect DFL and GOP candidates to the Legislature in 2012.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said he thinks a committee in the Senate will hold a hearing on his bill this week.

He said the Legislature still has a solid chance of passing the bill this session.

“I’m going to move the bill and hopefully give both sides enough room to know that the bill is moving and they hopefully get behind closed doors and come to some resolution on the issue,” Hayden said.

Hospitals have been lobbying heavily against the bill because they say it would add to cost of health care.