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Health Committee Receives Testimony and Criticism

April 18, 2005 – According to Sen. Ronald E. Russell, the political rancor at the legislature has reached such a level that the process is being stymied, that one senator is making it impossible for another senator to do his job.
Specifically, Russell referred to a hearing Monday on legislation to create requirements to license Physician Assistants and grant Advance Practice Registered Nurses authority to prescribe medication.
Russell said, in a press release issued after the hearing, that the Senate’s Committee on Health, Hospital and Human Services Chairman Usie R. Richards denied Russell the opportunity to ask questions of the testifiers. Russell said that "is unprecedented in the history of the legislature."
In a telephone interview, Russell added he plans to draw up a resolution to ask the body to reprimand Richards and remove him from the chairmanship.
A release from the committee mentions positive testimony taken at the hearing.
The release said, "The president of the V.I. Medical Society, Anne Treasure, MD said the 'recognition of physician assistants . . .is long overdue.'"
It also mentioned that Rodney E. Miller, chief executive officer of the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital, and Kendall Griffith, medical director of the Juan F. Luis Hospital expressed support for the legislation. It noted that both hospitals' officials provided recommendations to be considered in making the bill more workable.
This release, however, gets murky when referring to questioning from Russell. It appears that Richards instead of testifiers answers Russell's questions, and it is not quite clear what the answer was.
Russell said in the interview that in a first round of questioning he asked whether the testifiers would support the legislation if there were no funds for malpractice insurance for these positions. He said he did some research and wanted to follow up on those questions when he was cut off.
As for the merits of the bill itself, Richards acknowledged, in the press release, the need to clarify the medication, which can be prescribed by Physician Assistants.
Sen. Lorraine Berry echoed similar sentiments. She said, after listening to the testifiers, more work needs to be done to the bill, before moving it forward.
Richards said in his closing remarks that further work will be done on the proposal and another meeting will be scheduled to further develop the measure.
Russell is not a member of the committee, but senators routinely sit in on committees of which they are not members and are granted the right to question testifiers.
"When the chair of a legislative committee can shut down substantive questions and debate to promote his own personal agenda, then that is an abuse and a disrespect of power and authority," Russell said in his press release.
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