Do You Know What That Ticket Really Requires You To Do?

by Abbie J. Widger

This article was written for The Nebraska Health Care Association.

You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.”

-Oscar Wilde

In Nebraska, health care professionals are required to “self-report” to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in certain situations.  These situations generally pertain to issues of competence and liability resulting from a health care professional’s conduct within his or her practice area.  Examples of such issues range from a voluntary limitation of privileges during a pending investigation to an adverse settlement, judgment, or award on a professional liability claim.

However, a health care professional’s conduct outside of his or her credentialed area can also trigger self-reporting requirements.  Specifically, health care professionals must self-report when convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense.  On its face, this seems straight forward.  If a health care professional is accused of a misdemeanor or felony, one expects a certain amount of formal process to ensue before a conviction occurs which trigger the self-reporting requirements.  The process may not be as dramatic as an episode of Law & Order, but at the very least the health care professional may expect to meet with a prosecutor and make an appearance in court.  In short, it would be fairly obvious to the health care professional that a conviction had occurred and the self-reporting requirements had been triggered.

Simple enough, right?  No.  It is possible to be convicted of a misdemeanor offense without ever meeting a prosecutor or stepping foot inside a courtroom   These offenses are commonly referred to as waiverable offenses.  A list of waiverable offenses may be found here.  You need to scroll down to Appendix 6, waiver/fine schedule.

Under a waiverable offense, an accused individual has the option of either 1) contesting the accusation in court, or 2) waiving his or her rights, pleading guilty, and paying the fine established for the offense without appearing in court.  Perhaps the most common example of a waiverable offense is a speeding ticket.  If ticketed for speeding, the accused driver may contest the charge in court, or choose the more likely option of signing the ticket and paying the fine.  Usually, the fine is paid by writing a check and mailing the fine to the courthouse in the county you were stopped.  The driver’s signature and payment constitute a guilty plea and, if accepted, result in a conviction.

Fortunately for heavy-footed health care professionals, speed limit violations do not constitute misdemeanors, so citations for speeding will not trigger self-reporting requirements.  (Additionally, the form for reporting convictions provided by DHHS specifically instructs health care professionals not to report speeding or parking tickets.)  However, if a speeding driver is pulled over by an officer, the stop may result in more than a mere citation for speeding.  Suppose the driver forgot to renew the tags on his or her car, meaning that he or she was operating the vehicle without a current registration.  The driver will receive a ticket from the officer for speeding, as well as operating a vehicle without a current registration.  Both offenses are waiverable, but the second charge (operating a vehicle without a current registration), is a misdemeanor.  If the driver is a health care professional, and he or she pays the ticket via a waiver, a conviction of a misdemeanor offense has occurred and self-reporting requirements would take effect.

Many misdemeanors that are also waiverable offenses pertain to the use and ownership of automobiles.  Some are classified as moving offenses, such as overtaking and passing a school bus, and failure to dim one’s lights.  Others may be classified as non-moving offenses, such as possessing a radar transmission device (a.k.a. a “fuzz buster”), operating a vehicle with improperly tinted windows, operating a vehicle without carrying current registration, no proof of ownership, driving on an expired driver’s license or while on suspension, or your plates are not clear and visible.

Other waiverable misdemeanors have nothing to do with operating an automobile.  Depositing materials on the road or in a ditch (littering), discharge of illegal fireworks, and public consumption of alcohol are a few.  Violations of certain Game and Park statutes may be waiverable misdemeanors.  Examples include shooting from the highway, possession of an open alcohol container, no fishing (or other appropriate) permit, failure to display fishing (or other appropriate) permit, entry into the park without a permit, loaded shotgun in the vehicle, and insufficient life jackets.

The important question to ask is “Even if this offense is waiverable, is it a misdemeanor?”  A simple ticket may detrimentally affect a health care professional’s standing, if he or she fails to realize the gravity of his or her actions in paying a ticket that carries a misdemeanor offense.  Certainly, the health care professional must initially choose to contest the ticket or pay the fine.  If he or she chooses to pay the fine, the health care professional must also realize that a conviction may have occurred and the conviction must be reported to DHHS.

If a licensee has a conviction he or she has not reported, the general recommendation is to report as soon as you become aware that you should have reported rather than wait until the next renewal period.  Generally, the sooner you report, the less likely it will be that adverse action is taken against your license for a failure to report.  Also, carefully read your specific credential’s renewal application.  Some renewals, such as the nursing home administrator, want all convictions so you should relist everything; whereas the others such as the Board of Nursing only ask for convictions since the last renewal.

If you have any questions about whether a ticket is a misdemeanor conviction, please contact your credentialing Board or your attorney.