Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, may try to implement strict guidelines in state law designed to protect student-athletes from returning too soon to fields of play after suffering concussions.
Earlier this year, Smith proposed legislation that would require athletes in publicly-funded sports – like high school football or basketball – to visit a doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner to receive medical clearance to return to play. The initial version also directed parents, coaches, and players to undergo training in identifying concussions and also ordered coaches in public schools to remove players from practices or games when they are suspected of having suffered concussions.
The legislation, House Bill 676a, was stripped of the restrictions in debate on the House floor by Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who worried about the necessity for the law. Crane also argued that language instituted by Smith and co-sponsor Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, could leave schools and sports coaches liable for head injuries sustained during play.
Smith, in an interview with IdahoReporter.com Wednesday, said she may return the additional guidelines to the bill in the 2011 legislative session, set to begin in January. “I’d like to beef it up a little bit,” said Smith. The Pocatello Democrat explained that closer to the start of the session, she will meet with key lawmakers – she didn’t specify who – to find support for the move. If she cannot find suitable backing for the effort, she will drop the changes.
Crane said that he may be open to changes for the concussion law, but that he must confer with Smith before forming an opinion. ”I’ll have to see if it’s something that I think is viable,” Crane said. One provision that would not be acceptable, he pointed out, is the requirement for coaches to yank athletes suspected of sustaining concussions. ”You hire a coach to coach a game, not to be a medical examined,” Crane said.
The language in the law focuses solely on education and will not add additional duties for coaches. The law directs the Idaho State Board of Education to work in conjunction with the Idaho High School Activities Association (IHSAA) to develop educational materials and programs that will aid in training coaches, athletes, and parents alike about the dangers and risks of concussions, which Smith said are particularly harmful to younger athletes.
The IHSAA has implemented the changes through the law and offers concussion education information on its webpage. The agency has also participated in running radio advertisements to raise awareness about the issue.