A legislative conference committee made up of House and Senate lawmakers has finalized a bill that would allow a private entity to manage Maui County state hospital facilities in an effort to save the state millions of dollars in operating costs.

Policymakers have been exploring the possibility of creating a private-public partnership to run Maui County hospitals for several years, but this is the closest the proposal has come to passing the Legislature.

During a hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Della Au Belatti announced the House amended House Bill 1075 to provide more worker protections and expand the definition of what kind of entity could manage the hospital system.

The measure goes next to the full House and Senate for a vote.

Rep. Della Au Belatti during a Hawaii Medical Marijuana Dispensary Task Force meeting at the Hawaii State Capitol on September 9, 2014.

Rep. Della Au Belatti chairs the Hawaii House Health Committee.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa said in written testimony that the bill could help stabilize Maui Memorial Medical Center, which lost over $43 million last year, and ensure that no services are cut.

Among other changes, Belatti said the bill that was approved Tuesday would protect all rights, privileges and benefits of hospital employees; clarify that workers can keep their jobs for six months after the transfer; and give the governor explicit power to direct the negotiations along with the state and Maui hospital system chief executive officers.

Gov. David Ige has already been heavily involved in the legislation. Last week, he convinced House and Senate lawmakers to revisit the bill to take into account some of his concerns.

Under the final draft of the measure, a private owner would lease the facility and the land beneath it from the state and be eligible to receive state capital improvement funds for 10 years. The measure also caps the amount of state funding available for the hospital system at the 2014 budget level.

The bill also requires the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation and unions representing hospital workers to meet to discuss how the transfer would impact employees and whether it’s feasible to amend the collective bargaining agreement to lessen the adverse effect of layoffs.

That’s one of several aspects of the bill intended to soften the impact on hospital workers. The Hawaii Government Employees Association has been a strong opponent of the proposal to privatize, harshly criticizing the last version of the bill. “It’s a risky and dangerous proposition, which may cause irreversible harm to our community,” the state’s largest union said in its written testimony.

Arakawa’s spokesman, Rod Antone, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the mayor and the Maui delegation in the Legislature have been fighting hard to get HB 1075 passed and that he’s happy the bill was approved unanimously by the conference committee.

“Here’s hoping that it goes to the floor vote and gets just as much support,” Antone said.

Click here to read the bill.

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