Association of Surgical Technologists

Minnesota State Assembly

Association of Surgical Technologists
Association of Surgical Technologists

2014 Session Summary

From Our Lobbyist:

The 2014 legislative session was a disappointment for surgical technologists in Minnesota, but progress was made.  This is a summary of what happened and what the plan is for the future.

Bipartisan bills were introduced in the House and Senate in 2013 on behalf of AST-MN and an amended bill was introduced in 2014 to reflect discussions with the Minnesota Nurses Association.  The House author on both bills was Rep. Patti Fritz (DFL-Fairibault), a senior member of the House HHS Policy Committee.  They were coauthored by Reps.  Tom Huntley (DFL-Duluth), Chair of the HHS Finance Committee, Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood), JoAnn Ward (DFL-Woodbury), Jason Metsa (DFL-Eveleth), Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township), Susan Allen (DFL-Minneapolis) and Will Morgan (DFL-Burnsville).   

  The Senate bills were introduced by Senator Sandy Pappas, (DFL-St. Paul), the Senate President, and were coauthored by Senators Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge), Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont), David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) and John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin).

Because the 2013 session was focused on developing and passing the two-year biennial budget, there was no action in the HHS policy committees in either the House or Senate on any  health care licensure bills.  All action was deferred to the 2014 session.

In preparing for the 2014 session, the House HHS Policy Chair, Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) developed a new process not seen before in the Legislature for considering health licensure proposals.  She developed a form that all licensure proponents were required to complete, explaining what the proposal did, why it is needed, what opposition it has, etc.  AST completed that form and it was submitted.  A link to the form is below dated February 7, 2014.

In response to our submission, the Minnesota Hospital Association and the Minnesota Nurses Association, MNORN and AORN submitted statements of opposition. Links to their comments are also below.

After receiving reports and responses on all pending health professional regulation bills, Chair Liebling decided which were the most pressing and needed action in 2014 to protect the health and safety of consumers.  In the end she scheduled only bills on which there was no opposition, with two exceptions – regulation of language interpreters and independent practice of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs).   The language interpreter bill was killed in Committee when it was heard, so the only bill with controversy passing out of her committee was the APRN bill.  The final APRN bill that was passed by her Committee was gutted down to one paragraph and sent to the House floor in the hope that continuing discussions between the Medical Association and the APRNs might result in a compromise acceptable to both.

All other health professional regulation bills heard in 2014 in the House HHS Policy Committee were bills in which all sides had either reached agreement on a compromise or the bill had been stripped down toremove all controversial provisions. 

Given the four statements of opposition from the hospitals and nurses, our bill was obviously controversial and it was not scheduled for a hearing in the House.  The Senate did not have a formal comparable process of completing a form, but had a similar outcome.  Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee Chair Kathy Sheran only scheduled bills on which there was no controversy, again with the exception of the APRN issue (She is an APRN).

Below are links to reports and comments on all other licensure bills in the House HHS Policy Committee. Many other bills were not scheduled for a hearing.  We were not the only ones who were disappointed in the lack of a hearing.

Obviously we wanted our bill to have been scheduled for a hearing so that AST-MN could make its case of the importance of passing the bill.  However, given its controversy and the fact that the House scheduled only one day of hearings this session for all health professional regulation bills and hearing time was short, our bill didn’t make the cut.

The legislative process is challenging and bills that should be killed become law while others that make sense can’t get heard in Committee.  There are a variety of factors that influence which bills are ultimately successful and this year those factors did not line up in our favor.

There is good news; however, from the process this year. 

Much progress was made on educating HHS Committee members on the bill and the need for regulation of surgical technologists.  Every member of the House and Senate HHS policy committees had a meeting with AST-MN’s lobbyist in which he explained the bill and why it is needed.  Many legislators continue to be shocked that there is no regulation for this key function in the OR and many were willing to support the bill had it been scheduled for a hearing.

We also garnered additional support for the bill from organized labor.  The United Steelworkers had been supportive of the bill in the past and had lobbied on its behalf.  This year the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the union which represents many surg techs in the Twin Cities and Rochester, came on board as well.  The SEIU made the bill a top legislative priority and ordered its staff to lobby for the bill. 

One major challenge we faced this session was the lack of grassroots action by AST-MN members.  A key element needed for victory in the 2014 session was legislators hearing from their constituents about the surgical technologist profession and the need for regulation to protects surgical patients.  While there were repeated pleas for AST-MN members to meet in person with their legislators and our lobbyist offered to attend those meetings, only two legislators had face-to-face meetings with constituents.  This disconnect between the message being delivered by AST-MN’s lobbyist and our members must end.  Legislators must hear in-person from their AST-MN constituents that their support is needed.  During the upcoming campaign season in which all 134 House seats are up, candidates need to hear from local surgical technologists about the bill and the importance it has to surgical technologists and patients.  Once candidate filings close, we can get the names and addresses of all House candidates out so AST-MN members can contact them.

A second challenge is the continuing opposition from the nurses and hospitals.  We might be able to beat either the nurses or the hospitals, but beating both is a long shot.  While progress was made with the nurses, they continued to oppose the bill despite compromises made by AST.  While the Minnesota Hospital Association is not expected to ever move to neutrality on the bill, it is possible to remove the Minnesota Nurses Association’s opposition.  Talks with them will continue over the interim in a continued effort to remove their opposition.

Looking ahead to 2015, there are some changes that will affect our ability to move forward.  House HHS Policy Chair Tina Liebling is not expected to continue in her current position in 2015.  Rep. Tom Huntley, Chair of the HHS Finance Committee, is not running for re-election and should the DFL maintain control of the House, Rep. Liebling is likely to move to that position, opening up her Chair at HHS Policy.    This gives us new opportunities in this key House Committee

If any members have additional questions about the Legislature’s inaction on our bill this session I would be happy to answer them.

Thank you.

Tom Lehman