Susan Roistacher, LCPC - Legislative Chair
Several bills were proposed this year in the Maryland General Assembly of interest and importance to LCPCs. They affected the powers and requirements of the Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists and LCPC practice. Although many other bills of interest to LCPCs were proposed concerning such issues as mental health, health insurance, child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence, this summary is limited to an overview of bills specific to the LCPC profession. Particular attention was paid to bills that included or excluded LCPCs.
HOUSE BILL 33 – PROFESSIONAL COUNSELORS –CONDUCT
(ALSO KNOWN AS LYNETTE’S LAW) - DEFEATED
House Bill 33 required strong action by LCPCM and its members. We are very pleased to inform you that we were successful stopping this bill in the Senate.
House Bill 33 discriminated against LCPCs and the other professions licensed by our Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists. Its objective was to stop “therapist sexual abuse” by making it a crime, but focused only on Professional Counselors. The genesis of this bill began last year, when a client of an LCPC was dissatisfied by the Board’s disciplinary action against her therapist. The Board allowed the therapist to voluntarily surrender his license after admitting in writing to engaging in a sexual relationship with the client. The client wanted more severe punishment for her therapist and approached Delegate Smiegle to submit a bill last year and again this year to make this behavior a crime, rather that a civil disciplinary matter.
Last year, and again this year, we offered to support the bill in the House, if it applied to all licensed mental health practitioners and not just Professional Counselors. Last year our amendments to include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatric nurses were included and passed in the House only to be killed in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. This year, our amendments failed, and the bill still passed in the House of Delegates. We strongly opposed the bill without our amendments and it fortunately died for a second time in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
The other mental health professions lobbied that their ethics and civil disciplinary measures are sufficient to deter this behavior. They strongly opposed making sexual acts with a client/patient a criminal offense. We argued that it was unconstitutional and discrimination to make a sexual act with a client a crime for just one group of professionals and not for all professionals who diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders.
SB 607 Child Abuse and Neglect-Failure to Report and training – Defeated
LCPCM submitted written testimony opposing this bill which would have required all new and renewing health care licensure applicants to take a child abuse training every two years. In addition, it made it mandatory for the licensing boards to remove a healthcare provider’s license for failure to report child abuse. LCPCs are healthcare providers and therefore were affected by this bill. Although we supported the intent, we objected to the solutions.
We told the Senators that HB 607 requires the investigative agency to file a complaint to the Boards for “failure to report suspected abuse or neglect”. “Suspected abuse or neglect” is not defined. The child abuse reporting laws allow the clinician to violate the patient’s confidentiality when the clinician suspects that child abuse or neglect is occurring. The ‘suspicion” is in the mind of the clinician. The decision to breach the confidence of a patient based on a suspicion belongs to the clinician. Not every clinician will come to the same decision given the same circumstances.
HB1193 Task Force to Study Implementation of Strategies for Preventing Sexual Exploitation of Clients by Health Professionals (Smigiel) - Defeated
LCPCM supported this bill for two reasons. One was that we were specifically included on the Task Force. The other was because we know the discriminatory issues of HB33 (Lynette’s Law) will come up again next year.
HB841 State Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists and State Board of Social Work Examiners – defeated
LCPCM was neutral on this bill which specified language changes in our law regarding the denial of licenses to applicants who were sex offenders, guilty of crimes of moral turpitude, or guilty of a felony. We believe our law already states this in broader language and that the bill was unnecessary.
HB150-Maryland Behavior Analyst Act - Passed
Behavior Analysts are master’s level professionals who develop behavioral plans mostly for children and adults suffering with autism and dementia. They are not clinicians and do not treat individuals with mental and emotional disorders. This group and their clients sought licensure in order to be insurance reimbursable. BOPCT supported it and worked on the amendments. The Behavior Analyst will now have a license and will be regulated by a Committee under the administration of the Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists. They will not have a seat on our Board.
HB112 and SB448 - State Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists-Cease and Desist Orders and Penalties for Misrepresentation and Practicing without a license - Passed
LCPCM wrote testimony in support of this bill which puts some real clout in the Board’s ability to take action against people who misrepresent themselves as professional counselors and/or practice without a license. They have complained for years that they had little recourse in these situations. The Board will now be able to impose a fine up to $50,000.
SB 784 – Education-Loan Assistance – Professional Counselors and Alcohol and drug Counselors - passed
LCPCs, LCMFTs, and LCADC are now among the listing of professionals who are eligible to receive assistance from the Janet L. Hoffman Loan Repayment Program for graduate program tuition if their practice is in a high need geographic area of the State.
SB 803/ hb641 Courts and Judicial Proceedings – Communications Between Patient or Client and Health Care Professional-Exceptions to PRIVILEGE - passed
LCPCM wrote of letter of support for this bill which included LCPCs along with other mental health practitioners. This bill waives the client privilege if the clinical information is needed to support the provider in pursuing legal actions if the client presents a danger to the provider.
SB 882 Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) – Targeted Outreach, Engagement and Services (PUGH) –passed with significant amendments
LCPCM submitted written testimony in support of this bill with amendments to include LCPCs on the ACT team. The bill that passed established a committee to make recommendations to the General Assembly next year. The effort and focus is to provide crisis intervention and on-going services to the chronically mentally ill and potentially dangerous populations.