Minnesota nurses who fail out of a drug and mental health monitoring program could be automatically suspended from practicing, under a bill approved Tuesday by the state Senate.

The bill also prevents the Minnesota Board of Nursing from granting or renewing the license of an individual convicted of a felony sex crime, unless strict conditions are met, such as 10 years elapsing from an offender’s sentence.

The Senate’s 49-9 vote to toughen the state’s oversight of problem nurses follows a series of Star Tribune stories last year that found the Nursing Board allowed nurses with histories of abusing and stealing drugs to continue to practice. Some of those nurses kept practicing despite their discharge from a monitoring program designed to ensure their sobriety. The newspaper also reported how the Nursing Board granted licenses to people with criminal convictions, including sex offenses.

The state House has not yet voted on its version of the bill. Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, who sponsored the bill in her chamber, said the Senate passage assures that the bill will be discussed in a conference committee.

Brandon Stahl