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Bill Would Tighten EMT Oversight

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- For the second time in two years, state legislators have passed legislation to require California's emergency medical technicians to undergo mandatory criminal background checks.

In 2007, a similar bill was zapped by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who disliked last-minute changes that would have kept secret details about rescuer misconduct.

Now, the governor is ready to sign, an aide said Wednesday, but only after the budget passes. Schwarzenegger's staff spent months prodding leaders in California's emergency medical services world to modernize a patchwork licensing and certification system with extensive problems exposed in a 2007 Bee investigation.

Bruce Lee, an emergency medical administrator from Santa Clara County and vice chair of the state Emergency Medical Services Commission, said the bill should fix a system many considered broken.

Assembly Bill 2917, introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, was passed Saturday. It also requires that EMTs be certified in the county where they work and calls for the creation of a state-run central EMT registry.

The local certification requirement aims to stop rescuers with spotty employment or criminal records from shopping for certification in counties with no background checks -- a problem The Bee also uncovered.

The registry would allow officials to track EMTs statewide and, after a disaster, to identify rescuers in areas where help is needed. EMT fees will be raised to pay for it.

Torrico said the state should no longer tolerate the lack of statewide standards, background checks and a registry.

"There have to be standards for people operating our ambulances and we have to review their history more closely given the reports of criminal history and unqualified EMTs who fell through the cracks," he said.

Dr. Steve Tharratt, director of the state's Emergency Medical Services Authority, was pleased that various parties involved reached a consensus after months of work.

"What we all want is quality emergency care and the public protected," he said. "Disciplinary cases should be handled the same, whether you're in Sacramento or San Diego."

The bill is backed by the ambulance industry, firefighter unions, fire chiefs, and emergency doctors and county emergency medical administrators. A joined bill, SB 997, also gives firefighters two new seats on the 18-member Emergency Medical Services Commission.

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