Minnesota Requires Background Checks for Health Licenses
By Marina Byrd, CSG Graduate Research Assistant
Minnesota this year became the 36th state to pass a law requiring a fingerprint-based criminal background check for nurses and all other health licensing boards.
“Public protection was a high priority for us,” said Minnesota Sen. Kathy Sheran, one of the authors of Senate File 588. “It was very important for us to give licenses to people who are reliable and trustworthy.” The law takes effect in January 2018.
Sheran supported a bill in 2012 that would have required only those applying to the Boards of Nursing and Dentistry to get the federal level fingerprint-based background checks.
“The legislators questioned why the bill only applied to those two health professions,” said Shirley Brekken, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Nursing. That bill failed, but legislators brought the issue back this year.
“We wanted consistency across all health licensing boards who license people to work with vulnerable or dependent people,” said Sheran. House Bill 1223, approved this year, requires all health boards to complete fingerprint-based background checks.
Only 14 states—Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin—do not require fingerprint-based background checks for nurses to gain licensure.
By Jan. 1, 2018, anyone applying for an initial license, license by endorsement or reapplying for licensure after a gap in time must complete a federal level fingerprint-based criminal background check.
According to Brekken, some health licensing boards were further along in the background check process than others. The delay in implementation of the new law, she said, will help ensure everyone is on the same page.
“The 2018 timeframe allows all health licensing boards to establish a solid decision-making process and infrastructure database to effectively handle the new law,” she said.
Public protection is the core mission of all boards of nursing, according to Maryann Alexander, chief officer of nursing regulation at the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The level of trust that comes with the practice of nursing, coupled with the ease of mobility between jurisdictions, requires boards of nursing to vigilantly assess the qualifications of nurses, she said.
State boards of nursing license nearly 4.2 million nurses nationwide, and Sheran said the law requiring the fingerprint-based background check will help the state better serve the people of Minnesota.
“We expect boards to protect the public from exploitation,” said Sheran. “We want to create an environment to give the board every opportunity to protect the public.”
“Fingerprint-based criminal background checks are the most effective means for boards to ascertain the true identity and criminal history of an applicant,” she said.
According to a Minnesota Sunset Commission Report, fingerprint checks have higher accuracy than name or Social Security number checks. Fingerprint checks also use the FBI’s nationwide criminal database. This allows the background check to detect crimes across state borders.
The law doesn’t just protect potential patients.
“The law also needs to protect the person who worked hard to get a license,” said Sheran.
The law can protect the applicant by keeping the data protected and private. The data secured from the fingerprint check will be used only for criminal offenses that relate to the applicant’s job, and allows the applicant to review the data and challenge inaccurate information.
The Council of State Governments adopted a resolution in December 2012 to support fingerprint-based criminal background checks for nurses applying for licensure. The CSG resolution recommends the policy to states because, “nurses work with the sick, disabled, elderly and other vulnerable populations, and it is in the interest of public safety to review nurse licensure applicants’ past criminal behavior in determining whether they should be granted a license to practice nursing in a state or territory.”