On June 2, Gov. Blunt came to Anderson to sign a bill, originated by Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, that would require new safety standards, including sprinkler systems at Missouri group homes. The bill was filed in response to the November 2006 fire at the Anderson Guest House which killed 11 people.
Somewhat more quietly, a court of last resort for nursing home industry lobbyists, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), has gutted the new law:
No state rule can go into effect if JCAR objects. The committee can only reject rules, not enact them, and then only for specific reasons.
The idea, legislators say, is to keep bureaucrats from overzealously enforcing laws.
But critics believe industry lobbyists use JCAR to "veto" regulations behind the scenes that they couldn't kill in public.
The article notes that lobbyists representing the industry vigorously fought the new regulations and the legislators were in their corner:
One member, Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, said he supports safety, "But it's got to be cost-effective." He called the proposed rules "so arbitrary and capricious that they created an undue burden."
He said the Health Department will have to quickly come up with new rules; a 2007 state law requires new fire safety rules to be in place by the end of this year.
Stevenson as has been noted in previous Turner Report posts, has been the beneficiary of sizable campaign contributions from the nursing home industry.The January 2008 quarterly report filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission shows Stevenson receiving $3,500 in contributions, including $1,950 from six PACS formed by the Missouri Health Care Association and $975 from three interests represented by MHCA lobbyist William Gamble, with the three interests, Rural Telecommunications Association, MO Plan, and MORESPAC, all sharing the same address, P. O. Box 1865, Jefferson City...the address of Gamble's lobbying firm.
The JCAR decision is not the first time Stevenson has interceded on behalf of the nursing home industry. My book, The Turner Report, noted an earlier unsuccessful effort to crush nursing home safety legislation:
As some legislators were pushing for Kevin Wilson’s bill, efforts were already underway to undercut safety requirements for nursing homes and group homes that were passed in 2006, only this time the efforts were taking place behind closed doors.
Fortunately, for the public and for those who cannot take care of themselves and must rely on the kindness and compassion of state legislators, one elected official saw what was going on and leaked the information to David Catanese of KYTV in Springfield, author of the KY3 Political Blog.
In his Jan. 22, 2007, post, Catanese wrote about the backdoor machinations of Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City:
“Stevenson is pushing a motion in a committee to strip close to two dozen Department of Health and Senior Services rules from legislation designed to regulate the residential facility industry.
“Stevenson, the vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), said his motion, ‘in no way reflects his opinion of the legislation.’
" ‘Our committee has a very narrow focus, and that is to ensure rules and regulations fit within our guidelines. There were 120 pages of regulations. A few went beyond statutory limits allowed,’ Stevenson said. ‘They didn't fit in the framework of the statute.’
" ‘But this is not a policy debate. If a Representative or Senator wants to introduce legislation to allow these changes, that is a different story," he added.
“Stevenson's motion includes stripping language requiring background checks for workers in facilities, specific responsibilities for workers during an emergency, immunizations for residents and staffing provisions.”
Catanese’s exposure of Stevenson’s gambit saved the regulations as the Webb City Republican backed down and cast his vote in favor of the changes, but the question remained. Why would Stevenson try to throw a monkey wrench into regulations that would improve safety and perhaps save lives?
Perhaps Stevenson is simply a stickler for detail, but there could be another explanation. An examination of campaign finance documents filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission shows Stevenson has an extremely friendly relationship with the nursing home industry.
That is evident in the disclosure report filed eight days before the 2006 general election. In this report, which was issued when campaign contribution limits were still in effect for Missouri candidates, Stevenson received maximum $325 contributions from the Missouri Health Care Association, the most powerful group representing the nursing home industry, District C of the Missouri Health Care Association, and Cornerstone Healthcare, Rogers, Ark.
Even more telling were nine contributions, totaling $2,275, received by Stevenson on Oct. 20, 2006. These included $325 contributions from the Health Care Association Good Government Fund, Missouri Assisted Living PAC, Residential Care Facility PAC, MORESPAC, Burlington Northern Railway, and the Rural Telecommunications PAC. Two hundred fifty dollars contributions were received from the Missouri Pharmacy PAC and the Missouri Community Pharmacy PAC.
Many of those names are not associated with the nursing home industry, but they have one thing in common- they are represented by one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Missouri- Gamble & Schlemeier, headed by William Gamble and Jorgen Schlemeier.
All of those contributions came one day after Gamble & Schlemeier signed the Missouri Health Care Association as a client. One of the major skills of the lobbying firm over the years has been its ability to deliver large number of bundled contributions for its biggest clients through the use of its apparent minor clients.
Two months after receiving more than $3,000 in contributions that can reasonably be connected to the nursing home industry, Bryan Stevenson, behind closed doors, made a considered, though unsuccessful, effort to gut nursing home reform.
If at first you don't succeed...
MORE TO COME