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Governor sunsets board over pension provision

September/October 2011 The California Board of Nursing faced unexpected termination, effective January 1, 2012, when state governor Jerry Brown vetoed sunset legislation that would have extended the board until 2016. The reason: the legislation included provisions to hire new sworn investigators, who have much higher pension costs than non-sworn investigators.

In his October 9 veto message, Brown explained that while the bill (SB 358) extending the board until 2016 was “otherwise benign,” there were “extraneous harmful provisions” lurking within it. Said Brown, “These provisions would dramatically expand pension benefits for a select group of the board’s investigators. This makes no sense fiscally and flies in the face of much needed pension reform.” He noted that the board has existed for 106 years without the enhanced benefits and should continue to do so.

In its 2010 sunset report recommendations, the board had recommended 17 additional investigator positions to adequately handle the “continually increasing investigative workload.” In 2009, a series by the investigative reporting site ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times reported that the board took more than three years on average to investigate and discipline nurses, owing in large part to a backlog at the investigation stage.

But proposals to beef up staffing have been hindered by projected budget shortfalls; the three largest pension systems in California have promised $500 billion beyond what they would have the ability to pay to retirees, according to a Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research study released in late 2011.

The nursing board planned to propose a memorandum of understanding with the state Department of Consumer Affairs, allowing limited board activity but an intact staff, until a revised sunset bill can be passed in January 2012.