Playing Doctor: Politicking Medical Professionals Kill Anti-Concussion Bill, Leaving Kids Unprotected
You're a legislator, and you've got a chance to vote on a bill that would protect kids from deadly brain injuries at no additional cost to the state.
If passed, the bill would make sure that student athletes who might have concussions get checked out by a doctor before returning to play.That way, so goes the bill's logic, kids won't suffer from the outcome of untreated concussions, which include depression, diminished intelligence -- even suicide.
The bill would also make sure that parents sign a waiver showing that they understand the serious health risks associated with concussions, so that suspected cases get diagnosed and properly treated. Also, the state-sanctioned athletic associations would be supportive of the bill, even agreeing to voluntarily enact the anti-concussion policies. So, all things considered, would you support that measure, the Youth Athletes bill?
As you've probably come to expect with Sunshine State politics, the answer isn't the simple "yes" that it should be.
In late April, Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart (R-Ponte Vedra Beach) pitched this basic idea to the state House of Representatives -- and it passed unanimously. When it got to the state Senate, however, an amendment process began which would hamstring the bill's progress until its eventual death.
What this means: The next chance to protect student athletes really won't come up again until the next legislative session -- in January.
The bill's failure has not been widely discussed, so the Pulp decided to figure out what exactly happened.
Here's what went down. When the bill hit the Senate floor, Sen. Dennis Jones (R-Seminole) -- who is a chiropractor -- had added an amendment that would also allow chiropractors to make the call whether a student can return to a game. This version of the bill passed, but had to get another OK from the House before making its way to the governor for final approval -- because of the last-minute amendment.
Meanwhile, the legislative session was quickly drawing to a close.
The result, according to Renuart: "By the time we tried to make some compromising language, the session went out."
Renuart, an osteopathic physician and military reservist who recently served as a field surgeon in Iraq, told the Pulp that chiropractors would have been included in the House's amended version. He said that involved parties -- parents, athletes, coaches -- could "consult with a chiropractor," but that a physician still needed to be present to give the player a clean bill of health.
Renuart said that he doesn't intend to shaft chiropractors. He just thinks that chiropractors don't have the "experience and training to treat internal brain injuries" and shouldn't have the final say.
"This was politically motivated," he said. "The chiropractor would rather see the bill die than not see chiropractors able to do this."
"The House sponsor was unwilling to accept amendments to make this a fair bill, so as a result, the bill died," he told the Pulp.
Chiropractors, Jones said, are often better versed in dealing with brain trauma than "a gastroenterologist or a dermatologist that maybe 10 years ago did their hospital rounds."
Jones counters, in fact, that people with possible concussions should "go to the chiropractors first because we are the ones who see the most head injuries other than an E.R. doctor."
Rep. Steven Perman (D-Boca Raton), who is also a chiropractor but did vote for the bill, said that he was "disappointed" and "frankly offended" on behalf of chiropractors.
"At the end of it, I said 'wow,'" he told the Pulp. "There's important things in this bill, and at the end of the day, we want the athletes to be safe. I thought that it was appropriate, despite my misgivings, to take the high road and support the bill."
Renuart said that he might reintroduce the bill. Jones said that he's thinking of submitting a similar measure.
"I could file one in the Senate just as easy, and I'd consider doing that," he said.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Broward / Palm Beach, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.