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Clock Ticks On Bill To Allow Out-Of-State Nurses To Practice In Colorado

By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) - Lawmakers are racing against a Friday deadline to pass a bill that threatens the jobs of tens of thousands of nurses in Colorado.

At issue is an agreement Colorado has with 26 other states that allows nurses to practice across state lines without getting a license in each individual state.

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If lawmakers don't renew the agreement, out of state licenses would no longer be honored here.

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The timing couldn't be worse at Colorado Children's Hospital. Winter is peak flu season and the flu is making this year busier than usual.

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Kelly Galloway (credit: CBS)

Kelly Galloway, head of nursing for outpatient care and the pediatric call center, says the hospital hired nurses from out of state to meet the high demand, but those nurses will be unable to practice here if lawmakers don't act.

"None of us expected this to come up to the wire like it has," said Galloway.

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Colorado joined the interstate nursing compact 10 years ago. It was up for renewal last year, but fell victim to politics. The state is already short thousands of nurses.

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CBS4's Shaun Boyd interviews Rep. Hugh McKean. (credit: CBS)

"If there's one thing we can do to help our nurse shortage, it is to make sure compacts like this are enacted and maintained," said Rep. Hugh McKean, the sponsor of this year's bill.

If the legislation doesn't pass, Children's will lose 19 nurses from its ICU department alone, and the nurses in its call center would only be able to consult patients in state.

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"Which really paralyzes the care of patients," said Galloway. "We would scramble and do everything that we could to maintain safe patient care, but we are very similar to other hospitals in Colorado that would be struggling in the same way if this doesn't pass."

This year, lawmakers are taking up the renewal as a stand-alone bill rather than as part of a larger piece of legislation.

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It passed the Senate Friday. The House takes it up Tuesday.

McKean is hopeful they'll meet the deadline.

"This is one of those moments when you have an essential piece of legislation that has to get done and get done for all the right reasons," he said.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4's political specialist. She's a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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