ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota hospitals and nurses have reached a deal to track and study how patient care units are staffed, a compromise that stops short of unionized nurses' goal of mandatory staffing levels.

The pact cleared a Senate committee late Wednesday and was due to come up again Thursday in a House health committee.

The sides have been at odds for years over whether patients are at risk and whether lawmakers need to step in. The Minnesota Nurses Association has relied on anecdotal reports from its members to argue that staffing is thin, which hospital executives dispute. For their part, the hospitals have fought staffing ratios at the bargaining table and at the Capitol, arguing that they would be cumbersome and could threaten the existence of small facilities.

The revised bill requires hospitals, in consultation with nurses and other medical professionals, to develop core staffing plans that set daily benchmarks for each care unit. Hospitals must report quarterly on their direct care hours. The state health commissioner must conduct a study by 2015.

"This is what we can live with," said Wendy Burt, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Hospitals Association.

Jan Rabbers, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Nurses Association, said it will bring "a little bit more transparency and more accountability" to the often opaque world of medicine. While it falls short of the nurses' original legislative goal, Rabbers said the data will prove valuable.

"It's not everything that we believe is necessary for good public policy, but it gets us to a foundation of evidence to build for better public policy in the years to come," Rabbers said.

The deal started to come together last week when top House Democrats stepped in to find a solution to the dispute. It was unraveling by Monday as both sides pressed for accommodations, but further discussions produced a proposal each could live with.

The plan still needs ratification by the full Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to take effect.