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Gov. McKee signs ambulance board bill that critics call unconstitutional

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Dan McKee announced Wednesday he signed legislation that was designed to restructure how ambulances are regulated in Rhode Island, despite the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island arguing the bill is unconstitutional.

The bill — sponsored by Rep. Deb Fellela, D-Johnston, and Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston — cleared the House and Senate two weeks ago and was sent to McKee’s desk last Wednesday. That same day, Common Cause executive director John Marion wrote the governor urging him to veto the legislation, arguing one of its provisions was unconstitutional.

Various sections of the legislation would increase the powers of the R.I. Ambulance Service Coordinating Advisory Board, a body that oversees emergency medical transportation in the state. It would also require the director of the R.I. Department of Health to provide financial impact statements when setting standards for ambulances.

“It’s disappointing,” Marion said of McKee’s decision. “Because it means the governor is not being protective of the power of the executive branch of government.”

The governor’s office released no further comment on the bill.

Marion cited two lines he thinks make the new law unconstitutional: “The ambulance service coordinating advisory board shall establish standards for the duties and responsibilities of the physician medical director.”

According to the state constitution, Marion said, only the governor should be able to “establish standards” for the state’s medical director.

“This board, which we think doesn’t comply with the separation of powers amendments, can now direct an executive branch official what to do in their job,” Marion said.

“The overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders in 2004 voted to put the separation of powers in our constitution,” Marion said. “Any time we see incursions on that, we should be worried that that historic reform is being chipped away.”

Emergency physicians’ testimony against the bill had angered some supporters, including Johnston Mayor Joe Polisena, who alarmed lawmakers by suggesting some firefighters might avoid taking patients to the hospitals of doctors who had angered them.

Dr. Joseph Lauro, vice president of the Rhode Island chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, argued the new law invests too much authority in the Ambulance Service Coordinating Advisory Board, though he agrees with the fiscal impact provision, and could hurt patient care.

“A board that has only two EMS physicians out of nearly 25 appointed members will now be defining the practice of EMS Medicine? Where is the precedent for non-physicians regulating the practice of medicine?” Lauro told Target 12 in a statement. “Why would you take that power away from the Department of Health who currently regulates every other physician and medical specialty in the state?”

Lauro also said the law will allow the ambulance board to decide which schools can do EMS training and Rhode Island, even though some board members own and operate those schools.

To challenge whether the law is constitutional, it would have to be tested in court. Marion told Target 12 that only someone who was directly impacted by the board would have standing to file a lawsuit.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

This story was modified from its original: Gov. McKee signed the bill Tuesday, not Wednesday, as previously reported.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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