NEW YORK NURSE: July/August 2009
by Erin Silk
Recent events at the State Capitol had the outcome of proposed nursing legislation looking grim. With the State Senate embroiled in a month-long power struggle and a deadlocked session, the fate of the Nursing Care Quality Protection Act (disclosure bill) was uncertain.
Even NYSNA Director of Government Affairs Shaun Flynn was doubtful: “With everything that was going on, it didn’t look like this bill would be voted on before the end of session.”
On July 16, however, a day before adjourning for their vacation, State Senators passed the Nursing Care Quality Protection Act in the wee hours of the morning. This bill, which requires hospitals to disclose nurse staffing levels and other quality indicators, was a top priority for NYSNA.
“This is a big step forward in our push for staffing legislation and a major accomplishment in its own right. The difficulty that we had in getting this bill passed has taught us how to approach future efforts and will likely force a reexamination of what it will take to move major priorities forward, such as staffing ratios and educational advancement,” said Flynn.
After years of lobbying on behalf of the disclosure bill, this victory for NYSNA would have been hard-won in the best of circumstances. It is even more notable that it was won during a time of great discord within the Senate.
On June 8, Democratic senators Pedro Espada, Jr. (Bronx) and Hiram Monserrate (Queens) defected from their party to join the Republican caucus. This shifted the balance of power in the Senate to 32-30 in favor of the Republicans.
Shortly thereafter, Monserrate rejoined the Democrats, creating a 31-31 deadlock. No business was done during this period. The stalemate finally ended on July 10 when Espada returned to the Democratic Party as the new Senate Majority Leader.
In addition to the unexpected win for disclosure, the 2009 session brought about small victories in both houses for NYSNA, including budget restorations to Medicaid and nursing education. The lost days of lawmaking still left many bills in limbo, however, including several important to nurses.
Below is an overview of bills that passed in the Assembly and Senate and an update on those that will need to be reintroduced because of the Senate power struggle:
Addressing workplace violence
Legislation to increase the penalties for assaulting a nurse was passed in the Senate. This bill makes the physical assault of an RN or LPN a Class C felony in New York State. Nurses would be entitled to the same protections that police officers, firefighters, and EMTs receive when on duty. The bill was in the Codes committee in the Assembly when session ended.
MOT ban for home care
A ban on mandatory overtime for nurses went into effect on July 1. NYSNA drafted legislation to add home care to the overtime ban and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther introduced the bill. NYSNA is working to secure a sponsor in the Senate.
Before the Senate coup, NYSNA’s staffing ratio bill had again passed in the Assembly and had a good chance of passing in the Senate. Due to the Senate chaos, however, the bill did not advance. NYSNA will continue to work with other unions that support this legislation and push for serious negotiations.
Safe patient handling
NYSNA has drafted a bill that that would require the creation of a Statewide Safe Patient Handling Policy for all healthcare facilities. The bill was in the Health committees of both houses when the session ended.
This legislation would require RNs practicing in New York State to earn bachelor’s degrees within 10 years of initial licensure. The bill “grandfathers in” previously licensed RNs and enrolled nursing students. NYSNA will continue efforts to move the bill out of the Higher Education committees in both houses.
“Physically taxing” pension legislation, attacks on the Nurse Practice Act, healthcare reform, and privatization are additional legislative priorities that NYSNA continues to monitor.