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Governor Vetoes "Flawed" EMT Bill Fearing Background Checks Would Have Limited Public Disclosure

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill calling for California's 70,000 emergency medical technicians to undergo background checks, saying the legislation would have limited public disclosures about rogue rescuers and thwarted independent probes into their misconduct.

In his veto message, Schwarzenegger said the mandatory background checks in Assembly Bill 941 were a great idea, but the final version of the legislation sent to him for signing was flawed and fell short of protecting public safety and providing stronger oversight of EMTs.

"I am concerned this bill lacks requirements and penalties to assure timely notice when an investigation is initiated, does not provide sufficient authority for local medical directors to independently initiate investigations, and fails to establish clear standards for background checks," the governor wrote. "In addition, I am concerned that the bill would significantly limit public disclosure."

The Bee reported last week that despite being the product of months of negotiations among emergency medical services players, the final version of AB 941 sent to the governor had come under fire.

Solano County officials and others complained it took away existing powers to punish EMTs for corrupt acts or irrational behavior.

Michael Frenn, emergency medical administrator for Solano County, told the governor in a private letter last month that the removal of those powers would have prevented him from sidelining a rescuer with multiple off-duty criminal arrests.

Californians Aware, a Carmichael-based group that promotes open government, and the California Newspaper Publishers Association also expressed concern about the bill, arguing that parts of it would keep under wraps documents previously available to reporters.

In his veto message, Schwarzenegger said he is returning the bill to the Health and Human Services Agency, urging officials there to work with players in the state's emergency medical services world to improve and build on AB 941 and "get the job done" next year.

On Monday, Frenn said Solano County officials think the governor's action gives public and private players in the emergency medical services sector more time to fine-tune the legislation. "It's a terrific opportunity for us to solve the problems," he said.

The California Professional Firefighters labor union, which believes existing powers to punish EMTs for irrational behavior and corrupt acts are too subjective, was bitterly disappointed.

"Another year will go by without addressing mandatory criminal background checks," spokesman Carroll Wills said. "The perfect should not be the enemy of the very good."

Lou Meyer, a vice president with ambulance giant AMR, Inc., was angry too, saying it appears the state Emergency Medical Services Authority killed the bill.

"If the agency had issues with the language of the bill they should have raised those concerns earlier in the process, rather than refuse to take part in the development of the legislation until it was too late to make changes," Meyer said.

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