Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/11/2003 03:00 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 135-MARITAL & FAMILY THERAPISTS CHAIR WILSON announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 135, "An Act relating to marital and family therapists." CHAIR WILSON passed the gavel to Vice Chair Gatto so that she could present HB 135. Number 0072 CHAIR WILSON, sponsor of HB 135, informed the committee that HB 135 was requested by the Alaska Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. The Board of Marital and Family Therapy has been in place for 10 years. She explained that the board wants to update its statutory language, and therefore it conducted a nationwide study to determine what changes need to be made to bring Alaska's marital and family therapists up to national standards. Most of HB 135 is housekeeping, although a few areas include substantial changes. Chair Wilson then provided the following sectional analysis. CHAIR WILSON explained that Section 1 adds the Board of Marital and Family Therapy to the list of boards that are able to receive state contracts for treatment, which is of particular importance for the less populated areas of the state. Number 0193 CHAIR WILSON said Section 2 specifies that the board may order a marital and family therapist to submit to examinations in order to determine if the therapist is capable of safe practices. The aforementioned usually takes place if there has been a complaint and probable cause exists. CHAIR WILSON continued with Section 3, which changes the time requirement for licensure from three years to 1,500 working hours, including one-on-one counseling. CHAIR WILSON explained that Section 4 makes exceptions to the confidentiality rule when there is a threat of physical harm to an identified victim or when there is a disclosure by a licensed health care professional leading to a belief that the therapist is acting in an unethical manner. The language change [in Section 4] is standard language in the statutes pertaining to social workers and psychiatrists. CHAIR WILSON told the members that Section 5, which includes a substantial change, prohibits sexual misconduct between a client and therapist for two years after the last treatment, which is standard statutory language for health care professionals in Alaska. For social workers, there can be no sexual contact with a client for a lifetime. Number 0337 CHAIR WILSON continued with Section 6, which allows for suspension of the license if the examination discussed in Section 2 is refused. CHAIR WILSON said Section 7 requires that family and marital therapists disclose working information, such as fees and exceptions to confidentiality. CHAIR WILSON told the members that the last section, Section 8, specifies that those without proper training cannot act as marital and family therapists. CHAIR WILSON directed attention to Section 7 on page 5, line 8. She informed the committee that during the hearing [March 5, 2003, House Labor and Commerce Standing Committee] Representative Gatto questioned whether any family therapist could disclose working information or whether it had to be a licensed family therapist. Number 0426 VICE CHAIR GATTO moved to adopt an amendment that would delete "for marital and family therapy services" on page 5, lines 9-10, and that would insert "by a licensed marital and family therapist". Number 0495 LARRY HOLMAN, Chair, Board of Marital and Family Therapy, testified in support of HB 135 and answered questions from the members. He asked the members to look at paragraph (6) of Section 4 on page 4. He explained that if a client reports to the Board of Marital and Family Therapy that a mental health practitioner has done something unethical and unlawful, the board would be able to report the conduct to the licensing board without being liable for violating the confidentiality law by which [the Board of Marital and Family Therapy] is bound. MR. HOLMAN explained that HB 135 came about as a result of a collaboration between the regulatory board and the Alaska Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. The board backs HB 135 because it provides better protection for the public and brings the Board of Marital and Family Therapy up to the same standards as other mental health boards in state and nationally as well. Mr. Holman pointed out that some of the standards are crucial due to the associated potential for harm, particularly in the area of sexual misconduct. Mr. Holman concluded by saying the board and the association support HB 135. VICE CHAIR GATTO asked if Mr. Holman felt that disallowing sexual contact between a therapist and a client for two years would be sufficient time. MR. HOLMAN replied that he believes two years is sufficient. Number 0735 SUSAN ARTH, Division President, Alaska Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, testified in support of HB 135. She told the committee the association strongly supports this legislation, which would bring professionals into clearer compliance with other states' ethical standards. Number 0800 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON renewed Vice Chair Gatto's motion to adopt an amendment on page 5, lines 9-10. There being no objection, it was so ordered. Number 0838 BILL PLATTE, Licensed Marital and Family Therapist; Member, Board of Marital and Family Therapy, testified in support of HB 135 and offered to answer questions from the committee. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON said the committee was just dealing with a bill which adds clergy to the categories that are required to report child abuse, neglect, and sexual misconduct. He said that on page 3 of this bill it refers only to reporting of physical harm to intended victims. He asked if marital and family therapists are required to report cases of child abuse. MR. PLATTE replied yes. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON commented that child abuse must be covered under another statute. MR. PLATTE responded that is correct. VICE CHAIR GATTO asked if there is anyone who is not required to report child abuse. MR. PLATTE responded that he did not believe so. He said he believes everyone has to report child abuse. He noted that in some countries even a fellow citizen is obligated to report child abuse. VICE CHAIR GATTO announced for the record that Representatives Cissna and Heinze have joined the meeting. Number 0979 REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved to report HB 135, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 135(HES) was reported from the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee.