Just a couple of hours ago, HB 121, a parental notification bill for when minor children seek mental health counseling from a public agency (a school, for example), patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfleter (R-31, Prince William), passed the House HWI Health Sub-Committee by a unanimous vote. Two years ago a broader version of the bill was killed by one vote in the same sub-committee. Committee Chairman (and M.D.) Delegate John O'Bannon (R-73, Henrico), who was one of those no votes, voted yes, as did Delegates Algie Howell (D-90, Norfolk), Lionell Spruill, Sr., (D-77, Chesapeake), and Jeff Frederick (R-52, Woodbridge).
Opposition primarily was from the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards. Though perhaps well intentioned with confidentiality concerns and fears that children in abusive families would be scared from seeking treatment if they knew their parents would be notified, the bill clearly has a waiver clause allowing for non-notification if the counselor, in his best professional judgment, decides notification would be counterproductive. There went that argument.
The committee heard compelling testimony from pastors and counseling professionals for the need of parents to be involved in their childrens' well being. Trying to rebut, the CSB representative said it was all for parental involvement. Enter our quote of the day.
Delegate Frederick and Mary Ann Bergeron, the CSB lobbyist, had this exchange toward the end of the hearing:
Frederick: "Why do you oppose the bill if, by your own admission, CSB's best practices are to notify the parents?"
Bergeron: "I never said we notify the parents. I said we involve the parents."
An incredulous Frederick: "So you get them involved without notifying them?"
Bergeron: "Uh, um . . . ."
As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up! You have to see these things to believe them, yet they happen all too often at the General Assembly.
That exchange pretty much made it game, set, match. Going into the meeting, of the four delegates present, two were undecided if not opposed (a tie kills bills). But with Delegate Lingamfelter's strong presentation, compelling testimony by witnesses for the bill and Delegate Frederick's get-to-the-point questioning (he also found the state code does provide leeway for the counselor's discretion in contradiction to what Bergeron implied because the code does not define a term in the bill), the clear logic to this commonsense bill rang like a bell.
Delegate Spruill, to Bergeron: "What harm would it do to notify the parents?" (Simple and direct; exactly why does the state run interference between families?)
Delegate Howell: "We had a long discussion yesterday and today about how to get parents involved . . . even in the penal system. I think this is a good bill!"
Delegate Lingamfelter, with the clincher: "With all due respect (Ms. Bergeron), the worse case scenario is not that the child does not come back (to counseling); the worst case scenario is that he doesn't breath again."
The bill goes to the full HWI committee Tuesday morning where it will decide whether to report the bill to the full House.