Rep. Luke Malek listens to testimony in the House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday.
The state of Idaho may soon be able to collect a fine and investigative costs from nursing home operators if legislation approved by a House committee makes in through the Legislature and is signed by the governor.
“This bill (HB 36) accomplishes two things,” said Roger Hales, of the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses. Speaking before the House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday, Hales introduced legislation that, if it becomes law, would give Idaho government the ability to fine nursing home operators up to $1,000, and force operators to reimburse the state for investigation costs if the operators are found guilty after being investigated.
“I have two concerns,” Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said to Hales during questioning. “Has it been considered that a person might simply accept a fine so as to avoid the risk of an investigation? And what if a person is found innocent in an investigation? Are they still liable for the investigative costs?”
Hales responded that the Idaho Board of Nursing Home Administrators allows for due process, so nursing home operators who stand accused of violations can defend themselves. He did not comment on the question of accepting fines as a means of avoiding investigations.
According to existing Idaho law, the Board of Nursing Home Administrators already has the authority to revoke a nursing home’s license, or temporarily suspend it. Hales noted, however, that the new, proposed ability to impose a fine and assess the costs of investigations to guilty violators is necessary, as well. “The board wants to assess that wrongdoer of the costs of their violations, rather than assess the costs of investigations to all licensees.”
Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, asked Hales: “I understand the need to recover costs of an investigation, but why do you need to assess fines?”
Hales responded “the board just felt it appropriate to have the authority to assess fines.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, asked if it is common practice for other regulatory boards to have the authority to levy fines, to which Hales noted that it is common.
“It’s always a concern that a business owner in this scenario might simply pay a fee, and try to avoid an investigation,” Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, told IdahoReporter.com after the committee hearing, in response to Christy’s concern. “However we had several stakeholders in this committee hearing, and we had broad support with the proposal. I do not believe this law would make it more difficult, or more risky, to operate a nursing home business.”
Rep. Doug Hancey, R-Rexburg, raised another concern about the bill, noting that one of the criteria for a nursing home operator violation was for the operator to become “reasonably unfit.”
“That sounds very vague to me,” Hancey commented. “How do you define ‘reasonably unfit?’”
Hales responded that the “reasonably unfit” language comes from existing statutes, and would require “expert testimony” to clarify.
Despite the concerns raised by some members of the committee, the bill passed unanimously. It will now be sent to the floor of the House of Representatives for consideration.