Little Hoover Commission Holds Hearing on Schwarzenegger Proposal To Eliminate, Consolidate Some State Boards
Members of the Little Hoover Commission at a hearing on Wednesday "expressed fears of reduced public oversight and excessive consolidation of state functions" associated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) plan to eliminate 88 state boards and commissions, including some health-related bodies, the Sacramento Bee reports (Yamamura, Sacramento Bee, 1/27).
Schwarzenegger during his State of the State address earlier this month proposed eliminating -- among other boards and commissions -- the Board of Registered Nursing and consolidating the responsibilities of the Medical Board of California to the state's consumer services agency.
Schwarzenegger also proposed consolidating the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board into a single, nine-member commission called the Employment and Benefits Appeals Board (California Healthline, 1/25).
The 13-member Little Hoover Commission over the next two months will present its recommendations to Schwarzenegger and the Legislature.
Schwarzenegger must formally submit his proposal to the Legislature within 30 days, and the Senate or Assembly will make a decision on the proposal within 60 days of receipt (California Healthline, 1/7).
The commission last month issued a "mixed" report on the governor's plan. However, members of the commission on Wednesday "appeared unconvinced" and "more pointedly critical" of the governor's proposal, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hubbell, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/27).
According to the Bee, the commission's concern is "an early indication" that Schwarzenegger's effort "may have problems moving forward."
State and Consumer Services Agency Secretary Fred Aguiar introduced the governor's plan at the hearing, saying that it could increase the efficiency of state operations and improve customer service.
Deborah Burger, president of the California Nurses Association, said that eliminating the nursing board would give a disproportionate amount of power to health care companies, according to the Bee.
Assembly and Little Hoover Commission member Mike Gordon (D-El Segundo) said, "To me, it appears we're simply sacrificing the public's oversight role at the expense of pennies on the dollar of opportunity."
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary Treasurer Art Pulaski said, "I would suggest that for the governor to consolidate this in a way that they're accountable to him just consolidates the authority of the governor, and that's not good for the system of checks and balances."
Commission Chair Michael Alpert at the hearing said that he was concerned consolidation efforts, for example, could lead to auto repair shop investigators investigating medical malpractice cases.
Aguiar responded to Alpert's concern, saying there is "no reason why you couldn't cross-train investigators to deal with medical-related issues." According to the Bee, the response met with "visible dismay" from Alpert. Aguiar later clarified his remarks to indicate that medical investigators could be cross-trained across different medical fields (Sacramento Bee, 1/27).
Alpert at another point in the hearing told Deputy Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Terry Delgadillo that that he has "not heard anything ... justifying the end" of a state board responsible for emergency-response issues (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/27).
Aguiar also said that the administration plans to replace board and commission meetings with "a public workshop process," which would have more protections and give the public more access to government officials, the Bee reports. He said, "This proposal does not lessen consumer protection. The staff that currently receives, investigates and enforces against complaints will continue to do so. The only change is that instead of reporting to a board, they will report to the (agency) director" (Sacramento Bee, 1/27).
Schwarzenegger spokesperson Ashlee Snee at the hearing said that removing public access to government "is not the intention" of the proposal. She said the administration would introduce companion legislation that would allow adequate public oversight under the new system (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/27).