Tennessee Government has Plans for Your Children

On March 5, 2008, Along party lines the Public Health Subcommittee scuttled a bill that would protect your rights as parents to know about and give or deny permission for your child to be screened for any mental health problems.
Three years ago the journey began to protect parental rights, to prohibit automatic universal screening, to prohibit coercion of parents to place their children on psychotropic drugs, prohibit teachers from recommending these drugs leaving those recommendations to health care professionals. This proposal did not in any way prohibit students from being screened individually or from receiving any mental health services needed. Read bill at:
In 2005 the proposal passed the Senate 31-0, made it all the way to the Budget Subcommittee (otherwise known as the ‘black hole committee’) where it did indeed conveniently stay buried. In 2006 this legislation passed the senate 32-0 – the House Health Committee put it in a ‘summer study’ committee. Needless to say, the issue was never ‘studied’.
For the 105th General Assembly session, we started again. This time we worked with the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Children Services to craft a bill that was acceptable to them and went forward confidently. Sure enough, under Sen. Diane Black’s (R-Gallatin) leadership last year, SB1959 passed the Senate floor 30-1. 
House sponsor Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) first presented the house companion, HB 1419, in the Public Health Committee February 13th. The following week a representative of the Department of Mental Health testified that they were satisfied and a representative of National Alliance on Mental Illness, who had in past years, opposed the bill’s language, testified that they were now satisfied. Debate and adopting amendments brought us to February 27th when it became clear that Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) wanted to make sure that mental health screening was treated like hearing and vision screening -- never mind that hearing and vision tests are objective and mental health screenings are very subjective and produce a significant rate of ‘false positives’.
On March 5, the bill was back before the committee. Rep. Richardson was successful in identifying someone who would testify against the bill. Dr. Tom Catron,
[Tom.Catron@State.TN.us] associate professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt is the director of Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination.
[Governor’s email: phil.bredesen@state.tn.us ]
Understand that Dr. Catron never did Rep. Harwell or myself the courtesy of speaking with us to discuss his concerns or give us the opportunity to address them in any way.
You really must watch Dr. Catron’s testimony at http://www.vimeo.com/763472 to understand the dismissive attitude he has about parental rights. He made that very clear with: "It is very important that we engage parents once children are identified in early identification to allow them to make the important choices about what should happen and what kind of service their children should be involved in." 
According to figures I have seen we have 1.4 million children and youth in Tennessee. Now we know that the mental health folks have all of them in their ‘screening’ sights without parents knowledge or permission.
He also revealed something that should make our blood run cold when he mentioned that this bill would interfere with the coming plans based on a resolution that was passed last session. SJR 799directs the select committee on children and youth to study the children’s mental health system in Tennessee and develop recommendations for its improvement.
He stated “the prohibition of screening would totally undermine the objectives of that particular task force and really plays a pretty strong hand in tying our hands in making things better for our children…. Incumbent on the state and LEA to identify children early on and we should see mental health in the same way as vision hearing.” He also repeatedly mentioned “public welfare” concerns and said that securing prior consent would impose an "economic burden" on the state and would interfere with the "timeliness" of the tests.
Research on SJR 799 revealed that an interim report was due in April 2007 and is available online at:
http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/joint/committees/children/reports/SJR799%20Interim%20Report.pdf. A final report is due in April 2008. It appears that what we will see recommended is a complete denial of parental rights to give active, informed consent PRIOR to mental health screening. There you have it, we have had our warning – we should heed it.
A roll call vote was taken and is just more evidence that ‘it matters who governs’:
Voting YES were: Chris Crider (R-Milan), Tom DuBois (R-Columbia), Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) -- 3.
Voting NO were: Joanne Favors (D-Chattanooga), Jeanne Richardson, (D-Memphis), Joe Armstrong (D-Knoxville)– 3
Present and not voting were: Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis) – 1
Technically, because of the tie vote, the bill was not defeated, but will remain in the subcommittee. If we come up with a viable strategy you will be alerted.
After the meeting, I approached Dr. Catron in the hall and told him the I did not appreciate him appearing in opposition to my bill without doing me the courtesy of giving me the opportunity to discuss his objections with him. (Rep. Harwell expressed similar sentiments to him.)
I asked him to verify that he wanted to screen all children without parental permission and he agreed. I asked him about parental rights to which he responded that ‘there is always tension between public health concerns and parental rights”. I maintained that parental rights should trump that every time. I also inquired if he knew about the lawsuits in other states because these screenings were done without parental knowledge and consent and asked if he was prepared for lawsuits in Tennessee and he indicated he was if it would save lives. (Studies question the success on the screenings regarding suicide.)
We will continue to follow this important issue and keep you posted.
          Our commonsense proposal to preserve the parent-child relationship was—astonishingly—met with resistance in a Health and Human Resources Subcommittee this week in the Tennessee House of Representatives. My bill would simply require a school to receive consent from a parent or guardian before screening a student’s mental, psychological, or socioemotional health. I believe that this is important—parents have a right to know when their child’s mental health is tested at school, just as they have a right to know the results. Having consulted with the Department of Mental Health, who assisted in drafting an amendment for the bill, I can assure you that all parties who should have been involved were.
          When I presented this bill in subcommittee this week, however, those who opposed the bill produced Dr. Catron, the Director of the Governor’s Office of Child Care Coordination, who voiced “serious concerns” about this commonsense legislation. He stipulated that the bill would hinder the identification of mental health problems in children, in essence creating an additional obstacle with which they would have to comply. If we want parents and guardians to be engaged and involved in this critical issue, we need them to be informed of what it is exactly that is being tested, just as we would want them to sign a release to allow their child to go on a field trip. The state of Indiana is currently going through a lawsuit because they ignored this important aspect of mental health screening in our schools—we do not want Tennessee to make that list.
          I do not understand why this General Assembly has so many hang-ups with informed consent and parent consent on a very serious topic like universal mental health screening and abortion. The irony is that in the very same committee calendar where the Democrats defeated SJR 127 to allow informed consent for abortions, we then took up a bill to require parental consent to e a tattoo! This same calendar had on it the university mental health screen bill and the committee defeated it because the Democrats don’t like parental consent.
          I found Dr. Catron’s remarks and philosophy regarding the rights of parents to be bone chilling. He very coolly and smugly explained to us that parents only needed to be engaged with what the school was up to after the school had done its damage, in other words, no parental involvement from the beginning, just when we say so. His attitude was very “I know better than you do in regards to your own child” and it is the same argument I heard from my local county TEA chapter regarding the need for pre-K—that government is better at parenting than parents are.