Senate Panel Advances Bill to Create Multistate Nursing License

Sen. Kurt Vialet speaks about Bill No. 34-0040 during Tuesday’s committee hearing. (Photo by the V.I. Legislature)

The Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee advanced legislation on Tuesday that would establish a Nurse Licensure Compact that would create a multistate nursing license in hopes to attract more health care professionals to the territory.

Bill No. 34-0040 would “allow the nurse to have one license to practice in multiple states,” according to Sen. Kurt Vialet, the bill’s sponsor. “If we join the compact and you have a license in the Virgin Islands, you would be eligible to practice nursing in the 35 states that also have a compact. The reverse is good for the Virgin Islands because under this particular nurse licensure compact there are over two million nurses that are members, and the nurses from all of those various states would be able to use their home state license and practice in the Virgin Islands.”

Though the committee forwarded the legislation, testifiers varied in their support of the measure.

Virgin Islands Board of Nurse Licensure Territorial Executive Director Carmen Vanterpool-Romney said that previous board members reviewed the Nurse Licensure Compact before, “but did not see it as beneficial to the Virgin Islands. One of the primary reasons given was the potential loss of revenue to the Virgin Islands government.”

But Vialet held his ground.

“It can only help fill the void that presently exists in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in reference to the lack of nurses,” he said.

Janet Haebler, senior associate director of policy and state government affairs at the American Nurses Association, made several recommendations to strengthen the legislation but also advised against believing the measure would solve the nursing shortage in the territory.

“I think the assumption made that this is going to solve the workforce shortage, we have no data to suggest that it has done that in any other shortage area in the entire country,” Haebler said. “Very few nurses, even though there may be 200,000 nurses that have a compact license, does not necessarily mean that someone is using that license to cross borders.”

Haebler told legislators they may want to include the responsibility of a registry of all nurses practicing within the territory for workforce projections.

“I think it is great to have people coming into your territory, but the Board of Nursing does not know who is practicing currently,” Haebler said. “They know who is licensed in the respective jurisdiction, but they don’t know who is practicing.”

While Haebler said she had no position on the proposed law, she did discuss how sovereignty could become an issue for the Virgin Islands should the legislation pass.

“Keep in mind that the commission is comprised of executive board leadership from across the country, however, that leadership can make decisions about the compact that affects every state and territory,” Haebler said. “So, you may not be enamored with what happens or what comes out of it, so I think you lose a little bit of your sovereignty.”

Sens. Novelle Francis Jr., Marvin Blyden, Kenneth Gittens, Vialet, Samuel Carrion, Alma Francis Heyliger and Janelle Sarauw were present for the hearing. Additional non-committee members were also present.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to correctly attribute Janet Haebler’s quotes.