By Aaron Gould Sheinin and Christopher Quinn
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
5:59 a.m. Thursday, March 15, 2012
A plan to cut down on concussion-related injuries in youth sports has been tripped up in the state House despite bipartisan support and backing of the NFL.
The bill, poised to find the legislative end zone just a week ago, is now being relegated to months of study with the promise of being considered again next year.
House Bill 673, sponsored by Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, would require coaches to take an annual course designed to teach the signs a young athlete has suffered a concussion and would bar any athlete suspected of having a concussion from returning to play until the athlete is cleared by a physician. Parents also would be required to review and sign a form that explains the dangers of brain-related injuries.
The bill was on its way to a vote in the House last week when opposition sprang up from private sports leagues, churches and other groups because the bill also applied to them, not just to public school teams. Their concerns centered around the fluid nature of many of their leagues where a parent, who did not take the concussion course, might fill in for a regular coach at a game. Would the parent, coach, team or league be liable if a concussion went undiagnosed?
Mitchell said he understood the dilemma.
“I can tell you in the environment we face here in Georgia, I don't think my colleagues are not concerned about the kids as much as it is they are concerned about creating more government bureaucracy and liability. That is what they tell me,” he said.
Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, a co-sponsor of HB 673, is a nurse and is married to a doctor. She said the bill would perform an important public service.
“I am not one for overregulation, but I think that public health is a different issue,” she said. “There is a fine line between educating and regulating the public,” and she said she believed the bill did not cross the line.
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Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, who is a partner in a massive private recreation facility being built in Bartow County, stepped in to help. The bill was pulled from the House floor, and Ehrhart crafted an amendment with Mitchell's support to focus the bill only on public school teams.
The amendment and bill were resubmitted and approved for consideration March 7, the 30th day of the 40-day legislative session. Also known as Crossover Day, the 30th day is the last chance for a bill to pass from one chamber to the next and still be considered this year.
Despite being on the calendar of bills set to be debated that day, HB 673 was never called for a vote. What happened? Nobody will say for sure, but speculation has centered that House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who has total control to call bills for consideration, punished Mitchell for voting against the state budget that same day.
Mitchell said he heard those rumors, but was not told directly that is what happened. Ralston said Mitchell's vote against the budget had nothing to do with the concussion bill being left on the sidelines.
On Wednesday, lawmakers announced the bill would be assigned to a study committee that would meet this summer and draft a compromise to be considered in 2013.
That, Ralston spokesman Marshall Guest said, will “make sure that all of the unknowns or concerns are addressed before the House votes on the bill.”
Meanwhile, he said, “the ongoing discussions and media attention it continues to receive will lead to greater public awareness and bring more attention to the dangers this type of injury can cause to our youth.”