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State Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge).

Senate panel advances bill reforming chiropractor board

Bill adds two more public members, bars sex offenders from licensure in health care

By Nikita Biryukov, May 13 2021 12:40 pm

The Senate Commerce Community unanimously advanced a bill that would expand the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners and bar individuals convicted of a sex offense from being licensed to work in the health care industry.

The bill would add two more public members to the board, bringing its total cohort to 13 seats, eight of which must be held by licensed chiropractors who have practiced for at least five years.

The bill is a response to the board’s voting to reinstate the license of Bryan Bajakian, a convicted sex offender who in 2008 was convicted on charges of luring or enticing underage girls and illegally possessing a firearm.

“Giving a convicted sex offender the sanctioned permission to return to the practice was irresponsible and illogical,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), a sponsor. “Reforms are obviously needed to make sure the board makes the health and safety of the people of New Jersey its top priority. More public members will bring additional oversight and more rigorous background checks will help prevent this from happening again.”

The board backed licensure for Bajakian despite attempts to block it by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who argued the board relied on an improperly conducted psychosexual evaluation.

The action launched a spew of efforts to reform the chiropractic board, including a Grewal directive ordering the state’s professional licensing boards to adopt new policies to reduce sexual misconduct by professional license holders.

“The idea that the state board representing practicing chiropractors could vote unanimously to reinstate the license of a convicted sex offender is a slap in the face to people everywhere who have faced the trauma of sexual misconduct,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) said. “By reinstating the chiropractic license of Bajakian, the board placed others, including the most vulnerable, in harm’s way.”

Lawmakers briefly entertained dissolving the board to remove the members who reinstated Bajakian’s license, though they resigned after Gov. Phil Murphy announced a series of new nominees who would replace the incumbents in March.

The new measure requires boards that license or regulate health care professionals conduct a background check for sexual offenses and offenses against minors on prospective licensees.

“No sex offender should be allowed to work in a position of trust with patients in healthcare settings where they are most vulnerable, especially with children,” Senate Health Chairman Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) said. “Denying them licenses should be automatic. The oversight boards should be looking out for the safety of patients and the public, not the industry they are regulating.”

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