A committee of legislators formed to study the consolidation of licensing boards for a dozen public health professions ultimately decided Wednesday to recommend few changes.
Consolidation of the boards was one of the recommendations from a government efficiency study lawmakers commissioned last year to help them identify cuts to close persistent budget deficits.
But most of the licensing boards involved strongly opposed consolidation, and Rep. Dan Hawkins noted that consolidation would not help with the state general fund deficits because the boards are almost entirely funded through fees on their members.
“It’s not SGF, so it’s a little bit hard to say, ‘Let’s go ahead and just wholesale change everything’ when it’s you who’s paying the bill and you’re happy with it,” Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita who chaired the committee, said in addressing the representatives of doctors, nurses, dentists and other groups.
The room was unusually full for an interim committee hearing. When the committee adjourned without recommending any major consolidation, many of those in attendance broke out in applause — another rarity at the Statehouse.
The committee ultimately recommended just one change: moving the board of hearing aid examiners under the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, where it will join the board that regulates audiologists and speech pathologists.
That move was one that the stakeholders involved favored.
In contrast, representatives of the Kansas Board of Nursing testified against merging their licensing board with any others, including the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, which regulates 14 health care professions including doctors.
Seven people representing nurses testified against consolidation Wednesday, including JoAnn Klaassen, president of the state board of nursing.
Klaassen argued that nurses’ licenses need a different type of scrutiny than other health care professionals because they spend the most time with patients.
“If you are a patient who is dying, it’s the nurse who is the person at your bedside,” Klaassen said.
Maryann Alexander, chief officer of nursing regulation for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing in Chicago, came to testify to the efficiency of the Kansas Board of Nursing in its current form.
Alexander told legislators that the board’s 1.5-day average for processing license applications and 2.7-month average for completing investigations into complaints are well below the national rates.
“It’s one of the most efficient boards of nursing in the country,” Alexander said.
Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Republican from Coldwater, said the line between doctors and nurses is becoming increasingly blurred with expansion of services that advanced practice registered nurses can do.
“I mean, APRNs, I almost consider them a doctor,” Hoffman said.
Some of the nursing representatives acknowledged the crossover in services. But they remained united in their desire to control their own board, funded through their own fees.
The revenue created by the fees for the boards amounted to almost $15 million this year, according to the Kansas Legislative Research Department.
Betty Smith-Campbell, a member of the Kansas Advanced Practice Nurses Association, said she feared consolidation would be used as an excuse to sweep some of that money into the general fund to help close the current $350 million budget gap — a practice that has drawn lawsuits from other professional groups in the past.
“Is the true goal here to use our nursing funds for the general fund?” Smith-Campbell asked.