New measures to tighten oversight of problem nurses moved a step closer to approval after key House and Senate lawmakers agreed Tuesday on a compromise bill.

Under the bill approved by a conference committee, the Minnesota Board of Nursing must move more quickly to investigate complaints and suspend any nurse who poses an imminent risk of harm.

The House and Senate have already approved legislation reforming the board's disciplinary process, but key lawmakers disagreed about the scope of the changes.

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, wanted language that would give the board more discretion on whether to suspend the licenses of nurses caught stealing drugs or harming patients. But she agreed to legislation favored by Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, that calls for automatic suspension of nurses in those circumstances.

In exchange, Liebling agreed to set aside a restructuring of the state drug monitoring program.

The Legislature will revisit that issue in a year, after the Legislative Auditor has completed its evaluation of the Nursing Board and the monitoring program.

The bill approved unanimously Tuesday by the conference committee would also require the monitoring program to report more information to licensing boards, including whether the professionals it monitors have stolen drugs or harmed patients. Nurses who fail out of that program could also face immediate suspension by the Nursing Board.

Employers would also be required to report any nurse caught stealing drugs to the Nursing Board. Those nurses could also be immediately suspended.

It will be up to the nursing board to define "imminent risk of harm," Liebling said. She said it should apply to cases of nurses stealing drugs or failing out of state monitoring.