Legislature Calls Special 30-Day Session for Budget, Virus Fallout

The regular legislative session ended on June 1 at 6 p.m. and the special 30-day session began one minute later at 6:01. The regular session was fragmented say observers, adjourning one week after it began due to the coronavirus and picking up only again on May 4. Some estimate that up to two-thirds of the bills introduced were dropped.  

The special session will address the states budget, not dealt with in the first session. According to the Proclamation to convene, only 41 items will be addressed. These include operating expenses of the state government and measures to appropriate funds. Other items include the Coronavirus Aide and Economic Security Act, the emergency unemployment compensation filed by persons impacted Covid19, and licensure of medical professionals during a declared public health emergency. Insurance dispute resolution for healthcare services, coverage for home health services, extension of filing for state and local tax returns, and expansion of broadband coverage, are also among the 41 topics.  

Senate Bill 458, initiated by the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists (LSBEP) and authored by Senator Luneau from Alexandria, was not heard in committee. The measure set out ambitious changes to the Psychology Practice Act, but was put on hold after officers from the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA) raised objections. Dr. Greg Gormanous, Chair of Legislative Affairs for LSBEP, established an Ad Hoc Legislative Collaborative Committee composed of community members who have been studying the issues. 

Some bills did make it through the chaotic session. These include the following (excerpts are from the digests): 

HB 317 by Thompson establishes an autism spectrum disorder designation for a person’s driver’s license. The new law authorizes an applicant for a driver’s license who has autism spectrum disorder to request a designation and requires the designation to be placed on his driver’s license. The new law requires the applicant to provide a sworn statement from a qualified medical or mental health professional licensed in La. or any U.S. state or territory verifying his disability and prohibits any additional fee for the designation. The new law requires a driver who has autism spectrum disorder to provide a statement from a qualified medical or mental health professional […] authorized to diagnose autism spectrum disorder.  

The new law requires the Dept. of Public Safety and Corrections, public safety services, to establish and implement a law enforcement training course relative to law enforcement officers’ interactions with persons who have autism spectrum disorder, in addition to the requirements of present law. And it requires the course to instruct law enforcement officers on sensitivity and awareness to ensure equitable treatment and how to effectively communicate and interact with persons who have autism spectrum disorder.  

HB 449 by Echols also passed. In present law, the Louisiana Telehealth Access Act (R.S. 40:1223.1 et seq.), defines “telehealth”, in pertinent part, as a mode of delivering healthcare services that utilizes information and communication technologies to enable the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management, and self-management of patients at a distance from healthcare providers. The new law amends this definition to provide that healthcare services delivered via telehealth include behavioral health services. Stipulates that, for purposes of proposed law, “behavioral health services” means those services as defined in present law that are appropriate for the patient and delivered by a licensed mental health professional, acting within the scope of applicable state laws and his professional license for services identified by the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), to treat mental illness or substance use.  

Present law, the Behavioral Health Services Provider Licensing Law (R.S. 40:2151 et seq.), authorizes the provision of behavioral health services in residential settings, clinic settings on an outpatient basis, and in home or community settings. The new law amends present law to authorize the provision of behavioral health services through telehealth, and stipulates that the provision of behavioral health services in any authorized setting shall be subject to rules and regulations of LDH. 

The present law known as the Behavioral Health Law (R.S. 28:1 et seq.) authorizes psychiatrists to conduct via telemedicine a required examination of a person with a behavioral health condition who is subject to admission by emergency certificate to a treatment facility. […] The new law retains present law and authorizes psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners to perform these examinations, and to do so via telemedicine as present law authorizes for psychiatrists. 

HB 819 by Bagley authorizes the recommendation of medical marijuana by physicians for treating additional conditions and authorizes any state-licensed physician to recommend medical marijuana. New law retains present law and adds all of the following to the list of debilitating medical conditions which qualify a patient for treatment with medical marijuana: (1) Alzheimer’s disease. (2) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. (3) Huntington’s disease. (4) Lewy body dementia. (5) Motor neuron disease. (6) Spinal muscular atrophy. (7) Chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia. (8) Chronic pain associated with sickle cell disease. (9) Any condition for which a patient is receiving hospice care or palliative care. (10) Any condition not otherwise specified in present law or proposed law that a physician, in his medical opinion, considers debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified through his medical education and training to treat. 

HB 871 by Marino redefines “dyslexia” for the purposes of testing and providing remediation to students. Present law provides different definitions of “dyslexia” for different purposes. New law retains present law purposes but provides a uniform definition of the term as follows: (1) Present law requires the State Bd. of Elementary and Secondary Education to adopt a program for testing students for dyslexia and related disorders and requires school boards to provide remediation for dyslexic students in accordance with the program; defines “dyslexia” for this purpose as a language processing disorder which may be manifested by difficulty processing expressive or receptive, oral or written language despite adequate intelligence, educational exposure, and cultural opportunity. (2) Present law requires every child in public school in grades K-3 to be screened at least once for the existence of certain impediments, including dyslexia; defines “dyslexia” for this purpose as in (1) above. (3) Present law requires, upon the request of a parent, student, or school personnel who has reason to believe that a student has a need to be tested for dyslexia, that a student be referred for testing; defines “dyslexia” for this purpose as difficulty with the alphabet, reading, reading comprehension, writing, and spelling in spite of adequate intelligence, exposure, and cultural opportunity. 

The new law redefines “dyslexia” for all present law purposes as an unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader, most commonly caused by a difficulty in phonological processing, which affects the ability of an individual to speak, read, and spell; provides that “phonological processing” means the appreciation of the individual sou unds of spoken and written language. SCR 62 by Milligan requests the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, through the state Department of Education, to develop and implement a traumatic injury response program to ensure that each city, parish, or other local public school in the state is prepared to respond in a traumatic injury emergency. 

The Times asked Dr. Erin Reuther, Chair of the Legislative & Governmental Affairs Committee, and President-Elect for the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA) about the session. 

“When the legislative session reconvened, LPA remained active in engaging with legislators on several bills of interest,” Dr. Reuther said. “Namely, we monitored language in HB 449 and HB 530 to ensure that psychologists are included in definition of telehealth providers and our services are covered. We worked with stakeholders and legislators on HB 871 (formerly HB 391) and HB 542 regarding dyslexia with the goal of ensuring that legal definitions and practices in the state are consistent with evidence and best practices. This included a call to action of our members, which was helping in advocating for psychology and bringing us into meaningful discussions,” she said. 

“LPA also worked to support and amend HB 317, which creates an optional designation of autism spectrum disorder on drivers licenses for individuals who decide to opt in. It also calls for training of officers in working with individuals with ASD,” Dr. Reuther said. 

“LPA plans to continue monitoring legislation in the special session to continue our goals of bringing psychological science to policy and advancing the field of psychology in Louisiana,” she explained. 

Dr. Reuther is a licensed and board-certified clinical psychologist and works at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, providing patient care to children and adolescents with pediatric illness in both inpatient and outpatient health/pediatric psychology. 

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