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Christie Vetoes X Ray Safety Rollback Bill

Man Bites Dog - Christie Rejects Red Tape and Supports Environmental Regulation

Governor Christie outright vetoed 2 bills last week.

Due to extensive media coverage and strongly critical editorials – see: Asbury Park Press:  Bay bill veto disappointing and Star Ledger:  Barnegat is worth it: Christie erred by vetoing bill to help keep bay clean – most are probably aware of the veto of the Barnegat Bay stormwater bill.

As I’ve focused on the Barnegat Bay issue, I will get around to analyzing the Governor’s rationale for the veto.

But given the paucity of coverage and lack of awareness - especially in light of all the Christie criticism here - I want to note and praise the Governor for his veto of a bill that would have rolled back current X-ray safety requirements under the guise of reducing Red Tape.

I’d also like to hold the sponsors accountable – and criticize Senate Democratic sponsors Gordon and Sarlo – for supporting a bill that clearly was intended to rollback health and safety protections for economic reasons.

That is a very bad policy that unfortunately has crept into conventional wisdom. I have scathingly criticized Governor Christie and DEP Commissioner Martin for that economically driven policy here numerous times – but many Democrats share that ill advised and often corrupt view that it is OK to tradeoff public health for private corporate profits.  

The bill, S-617/A-2871 (Gordon, Sarlo/Voss, Casagrande)  would have limited DEP regulation of medical diagnostic x-ray equipment in facilities performing 750 or fewer x-rays per year and prohibited DEP enforcement of public health and safety laws.

Below is the heart of the Governor’s veto message

While I reject the entire lack of an ethical premise, the cost-benefit policy, and the entire methodological approach of so called “balancing” of public health and compliance costs behind the Governor’s reasoning, I reluctantly must support the Governor’s action:  

This bill would lessen radiation protection requirements for x-ray diagnostic facilities that perform 750 or fewer x-rays per year.  Specifically, the bill exempts such facilities from current requirements for testing the chemicals and processors which are used to develop x-ray film.  Proponents of this bill offer this legislation as a means to alleviate burdens and reduce compliance costs for diagnostic facilities that make infrequent or limited use of such diagnostic equipment.  While my Administration is firmly committed to eliminating red tape and reducing unnecessary regulatory costs, I do not believe that this bill strikes the right balance.  In my view, any proposed savings in regulatory costs is outweighed by the additional health risk to patients and health care workers that would occur if this bill were signed into law.

I also want to credit DEP professionals for their recommendations to Commissioner Martin to oppose this bill. That took integrity, given both the Commissioner’s and Governor’s attacks on DEP science and DEP regulations as Red Tape. As the Governor noted:

Both the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health and Senior Services expressed concerns about this bill as it worked its way through the legislature.  These Departments explained that the regulatory threshold of 750 diagnostic x‑rays per year was arbitrarily drawn and not rationally related to the health concerns for the individual patients and equipment operators.  The testing requirements are intended to protect the health of patients and workers by, among other things, ensuring that the x-rays taken at medical facilities are clear.  First, this protects patients by reducing the chance of misdiagnosis arising from difficult to read x-rays.  Second, it protects patients and equipment operators from excessive exposure to radiation when multiple x-rays are taken due to poor image quality.  Excessive radiation exposure increases the risk of cancer and other diseases.

The existing requirements are consistent with a study of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, which specifically concluded that x-ray facilities that perform less frequent diagnostics present special control risks in x-ray processors.  The bill would also undermine the success of the current regularly program.  Under the current regulatory program, the Department of Environmental Protection has seen a significant decline in violations over the years, from numbers in the thousands to a little over one hundred, and attributes these declines to auditing measures which identify and correct violations almost immediately.  We owe it to the public to continue these health and safety measures since each and every patient and health care worker is vulnerable to risks from radiation and quite properly expect uniform levels of protection regardless of the frequency of x-ray diagnostics performed at a medical facility. 

[Update: Dear Readers – please don’t think I’ve gone all Pringle on Christie.

I fully realize that the veto of this bill was a very light political lift, given the fact that it gored no powerful political ox, the economic impacts of the regulations Christie upheld were small, and the bill was sponsored by Democrats. 

But the Governor, in his own veto message, revealingly and ironically lays out policy arguments about why his Red Tape and cost benefit regulatory policies are so wrong headed. I could not resist writing about those contradictions.

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