Legislature Wraps Up

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Financial issues dominated the legislative session but some bills drew the community’s attention. A measure by the state psychology board aimed to help the regulatory board deal with its mounting legal fees, passed with amendments. An effort by the Counselors to remove the Rx consultation clause moved through after some initial bumps with the psychologists.

Senator Mills’ bill to reform the health boards’ disciplinary hearings and create oversight, bit the dust. One source reported that a board member said, “We killed it.” A new commission was created for prevention of human trafficking and limits were placed on prescriptions for opioids.

In this review we summarize a few of the actions of the 2017 Legislative sessions.

Legislature Finally Passes Budget

Legislators were called to another special session to pass a budget they had failed to negotiate before the regular session, a sign of continuing problems for the state. A $1.2 billion shortfall is expected next July, according to the Advocate.

For now, higher education fared better than expected, and was funded at higher levels than in the last decade. Mental health in Medicaid took a severe cut. State workers, especially the lower paid employees were given a 2 percent increase, amid concerns that employees such as prison guards would not be retained due to low comparative rates.

Governor Edwards warned that the fiscal cliff is coming. He said that if the conservatives would not renew taxes in 2018, it would result in the closing of hospitals and universities, reported the Advocate.

SB 37 (Act 234) Gives LSBEP More Leeway In Investigations

Senate Bill 37 by Senator Martiny, a measure to remove the current one-year time limit for disciplinary investigations at the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists and to allow the psychology board to collect fees when psychologists are being investigated by the subcommittee, was signed into law as Act 234 on June 14.

The measure allows for the board to start charging fees for informal hearings, including fees incurred by the board for a disciplinary action that is resolved by settlement, consent decree, or other informal resolution, including its investigator, staff, and legal fees. Previously they were allowed to charge only for formal hearings.

The measure was amended in committee to cap the fees for informal hearings at $10,000.

Previously psychologists enjoyed a one-year limit for the board to bring them to a hearing over a complaint, and in the original version the board would have been exempt from all time limits. However, in the Senate Committee, the measure was amended to conform with the time-limits set out in R.S. 37:21.

At the November 2016 LSBEP Long-Range Planning meeting, the board had said it would work collaboratively with the community to develop administrative Rules, not a new statute, to deal with its problems. In early March, the board sprung the news on the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA) that it was crafting legislation for the 2017 session.

SB 38 (Act 235) Frees Counselors from Rx Consultation Clause

A measure removing a consultation clause for counselors and marriage & family therapists passed the House floor with 88 yeas and 2 nays on June 1, and returned to the Senate and was approved 33 to 0. The measure was signed by the Governor on June 14.

The bill became law upon signing and relieves those under the Licensed Professional Counselor board of a burden to consult with a professional who prescribes and who is licensed under the state medical board.

The measure hit a snag when psychologists objected to what some viewed as an opening to psychological testing, even though counselors said testing was not part of the bill.

At the June 23 meeting of the House Health & Welfare Committee, author Senator J.P. Morrell told members, “Working with the association of psychologists we came to a compromise in which, working with those groups over a period of time, there was an agreement that the testing provision for a variety of those different conditions would remain with the psychologists and the testing provision would be removed from the practice act.”

“So we removed the language that requires the consultation but we changed the practice act to say that the testing provision should be in the purview of psychologists while the diagnosis and treatment will remain with the mental health counselors and with marriage and family therapists.”

Morrell said that with this change the association of psychologists removed its opposition. The committee reported the bill favorably with an 11 to 0 vote. Then it was passed in the House with 88 yeas and 2 nays.

SB75 Stalled Out in Committee

Senator Fred Mills’ effort to reform and curtail boards’ powers when it comes to disciplinary hearings was stopped in the House Health & Welfare Committee after passing the Senate. At the committee meeting Mills said that there had been some misinformation and he clarified that the measure did not affect the duties or powers of the boards, or the scope of practice that some members of the boards had believed.

He said that the changes are not new ideas. “Forty-four states have Administrative Law Judges for disciplinary hearings,” he said. “We don’t want you to be the sheriff, the DA, and the judge.”

This is a lot less costly Mills said, with the Administrative Law Judge costing on average from $1,500 to $2,000 for a hearing. The measure would have also added a consumer member to those boards that do not currently have one.

“We revised the Ethics laws in 2008 and said that, as a body, we don’t want the sheriff and the DA to be the judge and the executioner,” said Mills. “This bill is for the little man and the little woman. If you have to go in front of a full hearing, you should not go in front of a hearing that are those who’ve been investigating you.”

One source told the Times that board members helped derail the effort.

SB42/Act 181 Creates the Human Trafficking Prevention Commission

The measure creates a 17- member commission with a variety of legal, law enforcement, educational, social and other leaders, and also an Advisory Group, to prevent human trafficking in the state.

Act 162 Limits Service on Medical Board

Amends present law, instead of repealing it, and limits service to three consecutive terms.

SB216/Act 254 PEC Expanded

Prior law authorized any physician, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, or psychologist to execute an emergency certificate after an actual examination of a person alleged to be mentally ill or suffering from substance abuse who is determined to be in need of immediate care and treatment in a treatment facility because the person is determined to be dangerous to self or others or to be gravely disabled. Act 254 expands this authority to (1) Physician assistants when acting in accordance with their respective clinical practice guidelines; (2) Nurse practitioners with or without a clinical specialization who act in accordance with a collaborative practice agreement and receive verbal approval from a collaborating physician for executing the certificate.

SB192/Act 82 Limits Prescribing of Opioids

The measure prohibits a medical practitioner from prescribing more than a seven-day supply to an adult for outpatient use or to a minor at any time.

HB341/Act 369 Changes Terminology from Mental Health to Behavioral Health

The measure changes the heading of Title 28 of the La. Revised Statutes of 1950 from “Mental Health” to “Behavioral Health,” and defines “behavioral health” as a term which is used to refer to both mental health and substance use.

HB79 to Act 266

A measure which prohibited the administration of corporal punishment to students with exceptionalities, was signed into law.

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