When lawmakers feel sorry for law-breakers

Normally, people who write laws want the rest of us to follow those laws. However, when enforcing a statute costs a corporate interest group more money, prepare to hear some whining about government officials doing their jobs. So it was last week, when the Iowa Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee unanimously approved rules formulated by Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.

The rules expand the number of hospital workers who are considered mandatory reporters of abuse to include food service workers and housekeeping staff, and define “gross negligence” as a form of abuse.

Lobbyists for Iowa’s hospitals and nursing homes attended Tuesday’s meeting and argued against approval. They said the state inspectors’ definition of gross negligence would result in too many caregivers being branded as abusers. They argued that gross negligence requires a willful, deliberate effort to harm a patient. […]

Representatives of Iowa AARP, the Governor’s Developmental Disability Council and Iowa Protection and Advocacy argued that industry proposals would weaken protection for seniors.

Rep. Bruce Hunter, a Des Moines Democrat who managed legislation related to the proposed rules, addressed the committee and said the industry’s proposed definition of gross negligence was unworkable.

“It would make it very, very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute somebody in a nursing home or a hospital,” he said. “Yes, we want to make prosecution difficult because dependent-adult abuse is a serious charge, but we don’t want to make it impossible.”

Democratic State Representative Marcella Frevert

expressed dismay that regulators seemed to have regressed from “educational and helpful” enforcement to a “gotcha mentality” of penalizing violators.

Frevert joined the rest of the committee in approving the inspections department’s proposals, but said the full Legislature should consider revisiting the issue in 2010. “So, this isn’t over,” she said.

Here’s an idea: let’s stop issuing tickets for speeding and running red lights in favor of more “educational and helpful” enforcement of traffic laws.

Seriously, those talking points about the “gotcha” mentality of nursing home regulators sound familiar. That’s because legislators from both parties have made the same points in the past. By an amazing coincidence, those legislators have taken expenses-paid trips to Washington courtesy of the Iowa Healthcare Association, which represents nursing homes.

This issue bears watching during the 2010 legislative session, because nursing home operators know their way around the capitol and are good at getting what they want. Legislators could do this group a favor by relaxing the rules on “gross negligence” in nursing homes, and it wouldn’t cost an extra dollar from the general fund.  

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