Legislature rejects Parnell's nursing board appointee

Abortion issue colors debate on qualifications

Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, led a fight against an attempt by Gov. Sean Parnell to appoint a nurse, many legislators saw as unqualified, to the Board of Nursing. But that fight instead took on the flavor of a debate over abortion.

Parnell appointed Nancy Bienvenue, of Fairbanks, to the board in March, representing a seat for an active nurse, but she failed to win confirmation by the Legislature Friday.

The vote against Bienvenue was 24 in favor and 34 opposed, with majorities in both the House and the Senate in opposition.

Kerttula said that while Bienvenue was a registered nurse, and licensed in Alaska since 1996, she was not working as a nurse.

Kerttula said that according to Bienvenue, she last worked as a nurse in 1993. She currently supervises counselors at a Fairbanks nonprofit, and thus does not meet the requirement of having recent active nursing experience.

"She just very clearly does not meet that qualification," Kerttula said.

Parnell issued a statement later criticizing the rejection.

Bienvenue works as CEO for the CareNet Pregnancy Center of the Tanana Valley, which tries to convince girls and women not to have abortions. Prior to leading the organization, she worked as a volunteer counselor there.

Many anti-abortion legislators spoke out in favor of Bienvenue, and noted her role at the center.

"It is a facility that has a point of view, it is one that I support," said Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks.

Ramras said he considered Bienvenue highly qualified, and suggested that opposition to her appointment came from her political views.

"We have to have tolerance in this body for all points of view," he said.

Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, said that Bienvenue was an administrator, not a practicing nurse, and that in her interviews she showed little familiarity with the Alaska Nursing Practices Act. Much of the board's work involved licensing and sanctioning decisions based on that act, he said.

"This is not a public seat, this is the professional seat on this board," he said.

The legislator's only nursing professional, Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said Bienvenue did not appear to meet the qualifications.

"I have to say, the requirements are that she has to have been employed as a nurse, and as I understand it, she doesn't supervise nurses, she supervises counselors," she said.

Wilson said the Alaska Nursing Association said Bienvenue has been out of clinical practice for so long, she would have to be recertified before she could resume work as a nurse.

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said because Bienvenue works in the health care field, he believed she meets the statutory qualification.

"There is some disagreement within the nursing community, and I understand that," he said.

Parnell maintained that Bienvenue was qualified, and blamed politics for her rejection.

"It's a sad day when qualified Alaskans such as Nancy Bienvenue step forward to serve on these boards and get treated like a political football," Parnell said. He said he would again appoint a qualified person to fill the seat on the board.

Joining Kerttula in voting "no" were fellow legislators Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, and Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.

Wilson voted against confirmation, as did every other Southeast legislator except Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka.

Elsewhere, top Republican leaders in the Legislature all voted in favor of Bienvenue, but most Democrats and some Republicans voted against.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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