Senate passes hospital district change

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 3/22/00.

The Minnesota Senate unanimously approved a bill last week that would make it easier for hospital districts, like Paynesville's, to expand. The Senate voted 64-0 in favor of the bill on Wednesday, March 15.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) is the chief author of the revised legislation, which was submitted at the urging of the Paynesville Area Hospital District. Fischbach's bill adds a single phrase, which eases the restriction on contiguousness.

In its original form, each entity of a hospital district had to be contiguous. In other words, each entity had to border another entity of the district. The entities had to be in physical contact.

This restriction prevented the cities of Eden Valley and Lake Henry from joining the local district when it was formed in 1992. Voters in Eden Lake Township and Lake Henry Township voted against joining the district, which meant that Eden Valley and Lake Henry could not join because they were not contiguous to the district.

Currently, six cities and four townships form Paynesville Area Hospital District, including Eden Valley and Richmond, neither of which borders the district. Special legislation was needed to allow these two cities to join, in 1995 and 1999 respectively.

"There is simply no reason to make a town or a hospital, who have already worked out an agreement, come to the Legislature for approval," said Fischbach. "If the arrangement works for the community and the hospital, then there is no need for the state to interfere."

The city of Lake Henry has expressed interest in joining the local district again, according to Willie LaCroix, hospital system administrator. LaCroix said special legislation to allow Lake Henry to join the district was considered, but this revised legislation would eliminate the need for special legislation in more cases than just Lake Henry.

Under Fischbach's bill, entities would still need to be contiguous for the formation of a hospital district. But, when an established district wants to annex, the entity would only need to be adjacent to a township or city that is contiguous to the district.

So, Lake Henry, which borders Lake Henry Township, could join the Paynesville Area Hospital District immediately if the bill becomes law because Lake Henry Township borders the district.

LaCroix said easing the restrictions makes sense. "If (an entity) wants to join and they vote to join, then they should be able to join," he said.

Rep. Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring) introduced the bill into the Minnesota House. It has made it through committee, and the exact Senate language has been included in the House. Should the House approve the bill, Gov. Jesse Ventura's signature would turn it into law.

"This is a very important bill," said Fischbach. "It will improve rural health care, save the taxpayer's money, and eliminate needless state regulation. I am very pleased to have the unanimous, bipartisan support we had today."

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