Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/23/2003 01:34 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 FRED DYSON called the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee meeting to order at 1:34 p.m. Present were Senators Guess, Wilken, Davis and Dyson. The Chair announced HB 135 to be up for consideration. REPRESENTATIVE PEGGY WILSON, sponsor, said that HB 135 updates the marital and family therapist statutes to the standards of other counseling services in the state and to national standards as well. It adds this board to the list of boards that can contract out for substance abuse treatment by licensed therapists, gives the board authority to order a licensed therapist to submit to a reasonable physical or mental examination if the board has credible evidence to conclude that the therapist's physical or mental capacity is at risk for safe practice, allows individual client contact to be used toward hours for licensing, and requires the therapist to communicate to a potential victim or law enforcement officer a threat of serious imminent harm if such a threat is made by the client during treatment. It also imposes disciplinary sanctions with regard to therapist sexual misconduct and provides for some disclosure of information as a consumer protection. CHAIR DYSON asked if the law anticipates that the marriage and family therapist would be talking to the potential perpetrator or knows them, in regard to the provision that would allow the therapist to communicate a threat to a potential victim or police officer. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON said that is correct. CHAIR DYSON asked if his understanding is correct that this bill will give that authority to the other people on boards. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON replied the other boards already have that authority. It is being added here. CHAIR DYSON asked if this bill makes any changes for the other groups on the list. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON indicated it does not. CHAIR DYSON asked for an explanation of the provision that will allow client contact hours to be used towards licensing. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON answered that in Alaska, especially in rural areas, therapists are sometimes consulted to do family counseling, but do individual counseling also. Until now, therapists have not been able to count the individual counseling hours for licensing purposes. CHAIR DYSON asked if it allows them to double count the hours. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON replied it does not. MR. LARRY HOLMAN, Chairman, Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Board, explained that HB 135 is a collaborative effort between the American Family Therapy Regulatory Board and the professional association. This bill is essential because it provides better protection for the public in the areas Representative Wilson talked about. In the area of sexual misconduct, it fills out guidelines similar to those used by other health disciplines. It prohibits a sexual relationship with a client for two years after termination of active treatment. This bill also makes an exception to the confidentiality law that is a usual standard in therapy to report potentially dangerous actions by a client or revealed by a client. Most therapists provide a disclosure statement, but it isn't very clear sometimes. HB 135 asks them to disclose their education, their areas of specialization, their fees and other related information. It limits the practice of marriage and family therapists to areas of their education or specialized training. All of the provisions derive from many years of practical experience where there has been difficulty either in Alaska or in another state. He said marriage and family therapists use the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Code of Ethics, but he has been told it is important to actually put some of the code into law to spell it out more clearly. CHAIR DYSON asked if a therapist violates the section on sexual contact with a client, that therapist would be subject to actions against their license, not criminal sanctions. MR. HOLMAN replied that is correct. SENATOR LYDA GREEN arrived at 1:45 p.m. SENATOR GREEN said that last year when they dealt with this bill, there were problems with section 7, which says, "A client may not be charged a fee by a licensed marital and family therapist unless before the performance of the services the client was furnished a copy of a professional disclosure statement that contained...." REPRESENTATIVE WILSON responded that was changed to direct the statute to licensed therapists. MR. HOLMAN responded that he wasn't sure of that. SENATOR GREEN said she had never been shown a professional disclosure statement in a doctor or dentist's office. However, HB 135 says the therapist would be punished for forgetting to provide a litany of information to the client. She questioned why the board would want to do that to its own membership and asked, "Have they defrauded the client?" MR. HOLMAN replied that their code of ethics requires therapists to provide a disclosure, so someone would not forget to do that. CHAIR DYSON asked if that requirement is in statute for other related disciplines. MR. HOLMAN replied the disclosure statement language is the same used in other disciplines, but he wasn't sure about the rest. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON explained when a client comes to a therapist, the client could very likely be distraught over the breakup of a marriage and may not be thinking clearly. That's why it's so important for the client to know he or she bill get the disclosure statement. CHAIR DYSON said he would hold the bill for further work. He wanted to know if the same disclosure requirements were put on the Board of Professional Counselors and the Board of Psychologists and Psychological Associates. HB 135-MARITAL & FAMILY THERAPISTS CHAIR FRED DYSON announced HB 135 to be back up for consideration. SENATOR LYDA GREEN moved to adopt Amendment 1 and objected for the purpose of providing an explanation. She explained that Amendment 1 removes the language that says a client would not have to pay if the disclosure information isn't provided. A new introductory paragraph after "disclosure statement" says, "Before the performance of services, the client will be furnished a copy of a professional disclosure statement that contains...." SENATOR GREEN removed her objection. CHAIR DYSON announced that with no further objections to Amendment 1, it was adopted. SENATOR BETTYE DAVIS moved to pass SCSHB 135(HES) from committee with individual objections. There were no objections and it was so ordered.