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Proposed Bill Calls for EMT Background Checks

SACRAMENTO, Calif.-- A bill calling for mandatory criminal background checks for emergency medical technicians became seriously flawed in its final incarnation and will prevent regulators from punishing rogue rescuers, according to a top county medical administrator.

In a private letter to the governor, Solano County Emergency Medical Services administrator Michael Frenn stops short of calling for a veto of Assembly Bill 941, passed by the Legislature last month.

Instead, Frenn recommends a very careful examination of the bill, saying it "falls seriously short" of its goal of boosting public health and safety.

"I hate to throw out the baby with the bath water, but this bill has serious flaws," Frenn, president-elect of the statewide association of emergency medical services administrators, said in an interview.

In his Sept. 28 letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frenn said Solano County dislikes the last-minute removal of current laws that now give counties the power to discipline EMTs for corrupt acts or irrational behavior.

Without those powers, Frenn wrote, Solano could not have revoked the EMT certification of Timothy Gutierrez, who was certified by Solano but working with the San Francisco Fire Department.

That revocation came in July, after The Bee reported that the Fairfield man remained on the job despite restraining orders for stalking and arrests on suspicion of child sexual abuse, indecent exposure, spouse battering, vandalism and a prosecutor's 2006 warning that he was "a very serious risk to the community."

Frenn told Schwarzenegger that Gutierrez's arrest this spring for a suspected indecent exposure incident that ended with police zapping him with a Taser gun warranted action to protect the public. But AB 941 removes the county's ability to take such action until the person is convicted of a crime, Frenn wrote.

"AB 941 very narrowly, too narrowly, defines conditions and circumstances under which an EMT may be disciplined," Frenn said.

Frenn's carefully worded missive comes as AB 941 sits on the governor's desk. He has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto the product of months of negotiations.

Aaron McLear, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, said the governor's staff is analyzing 800 bills passed before the session ended and has no position on AB 941.

"We still need to go through it, word by word, to see what people said was in it, and compare it to what's actually in it, so we can form an opinion," McLear said.

Frenn said that while provisions for mandatory background checks for all 70,000 EMTs in California and the creation of a statewide EMT registry were highly desirable parts of AB 941, the removal of county powers leaves the bill "clearly not an improvement over the status quo."

Carroll Wills, a spokesman for the California Professional Firefighters labor union, disagreed. Wills said AB 941 reflected a consensus reached by players in the EMS world after months of talks.

"Irrational behavior is an inherently subjective term, and it's not the role of government to be applying subjective laws," Wills said. "This takes the subjective out -- and that's good for employees and employers -- and adds clarity and specificity."

Wills said the best check on an EMT is the background check that will now be done before somebody is hired -- and an EMT like Gutierrez would not pass.

Frenn said other changes to state law in the bill put too much onus on employers to take disciplinary action, instead of allowing counties to do so.

In the Gutierrez case, he wrote, San Francisco knew of Gutierrez's arrests but took no action because his troubles had occurred off duty, not with patients.

"While we find this position reprehensible, AB 941 would, in effect, condone it," Frenn wrote.

To see The Bee's ongoing coverage of EMTand paramedic issues, go to: www.sacbee.com/paramedics

The Bee's Andrew McIntosh can be reached at (916) 321-1215 or amcintosh@sacbee.com

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