Calling the measure both illegal and an invitation for misconduct, the Arizona Board of Regents on Thursday asked Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a bill that temporarily removes the board of its oversight of UA Healthcare.
In a letter to the governor, regents President Thomas Anderes told Brewer she should not be fooled by claims that the provisions of HB 2067 amount to simply a "cooling-off period between the interested parties.''
"In actuality, the legislation creates tremendous legal uncertainty and organizational chaos,'' Anderes wrote.
But Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who crafted the language, said the concerns are off base. He said the regents are "stirring up a bunch of red herrings.''
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson declined comment on what Brewer intends to do with the bill. She has through May 2 to sign, veto or let it become law without her signature.
The fight involves the ongoing efforts to integrate UA Healthcare, which operates University Medical Center and Kino Community Hospital, with the UA College of Medicine and a doctor's group. Earlier this month the regents, who appoint members of the UA Healthcare board, voted to shrink the size of the board and to have the chief executive of the new merged entity be both a hospital administrator and physician.
Biggs responded with legislation to take UA Healthcare out from under regents' control entirely.
The final version is less drastic, taking the regents out of the picture for 18 months. That would prevent future board votes to change the oversight, at least for that time.
Anderes said it's not that simple.
"The bill would give UA Healthcare total control over the university hospital, which would allow a private corporation unfettered control of a public asset with no public oversight or recourse for mismanagement or misconduct,'' he wrote. "In mandating that ABOR have no oversight of UA Healthcare for 18 months, the bill contradicts the non-profit's current bylaws and would call into question any corporate governance actions during the effect of the session law.''
He also said the legislation amounts to "illegally giving complete control of the assets and income and benefits (the hospital) generates to a private nonprofit corporation.''
But Biggs said there's nothing illegal about the measure.
"There's no transfer of title,'' he said. And he brushed aside Anderes' claims that his legislation would illegally hand over use of a public asset.
"They already have use of the asset,'' he said, noting UA Healthcare controls both hospitals.
Anderes also pointed out to Brewer the complaints of doctors at UA College of Medicine who said they were concerned that the legislation would undermine the concept of creating an "integrated academic medical center.'' Several doctors have stated publicly that any halt to the plans to marry the institutions would cause them to go elsewhere.
"The bill does nothing to affect the integration,'' Biggs responded, only precluding the regents from imposing their will on the decisions the current UA Healthcare board makes in moving that along. "Any rational person would realize that.''
He also took a swipe at the physicians.
"They're doctors, not lawyers,'' Biggs said. "They don't understand the English in the bill, to be honest with you.''
Regents spokeswoman Katie Paquet conceded that there was no meeting of the regents or vote to authorize Anderes to send out the letter stating that the board's official position was that Brewer should veto the legislation.
"Board leadership decided this,'' she said. "Although there was not a formal vote, I think most regents agree with the decision.''