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Youth Head-Injury Bill Clears Legislature

Legislation that would establish guidelines for addressing concussion injuries among young Tennessee organized-sports participants has cleared the General Assembly and is headed to the governor’s desk. 

Senate Bill 882 was substituted for HB867 in House Thursday. The measure passed in both chambers by overwhelming majorities – 90-3 in the House, 30-0 last month in the Senate.

“What this does is protect youth who are injured in sports with concussions,” Rep. Cameron Sexton, sponsor of the House bill, told the lower chamber Thursday. “Unfortunately, right now, there’s a lot of people in the United States and in Tennessee who do not know what a concussion looks like.”

The Crossville Republican said the bill would require any youth athletic program to establish concussion policies that include what information is given to all parties, as well as how to evaluate athletes suspected of suffering from such injuries.

The bill covers public or private elementary, middle and high schools, as well as “any city, county, business or non-profit organization that organizes a community-based youth athletic activity for which an activity fee is charged.”

“TSSAA [Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association] has had this policy in effect for the last three years,” Sexton said. “We’re just mirroring their policy for all youth sports in the state of Tennessee.”

In addition, all coaches, whether employed or volunteer, as well as school athletic directors and directors of community-based youth athletic programs would be required to complete an annual safety program on recognizing concussions and head injuries.

Sexton said the Tennessee Department of Health will develop the Internet-based course that will be free for users. It will include a “concussion signs and symptoms checklist” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If Gov. Bill Haslam signs the legislation into law, Tennessee would join 42 other states and the District of Columbia in having such provisions on the books, which received praise only from the Democrats’ side of the aisle.

Democratic House Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Shipley joined Rep. Dennis Powell of Nashville and Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis in commending the sponsor for bringing the bill.

Fitzhugh praised “a good bipartisan effort,” while Powell, who noted that he “suffered several concussions” while playing high school and college football, said he wished the law had been in place then.

Hardaway added that from his experience in coaching four youth sports, “there are instances where ignorance is a dangerous thing, especially in an authority figure that’s exercising the control over our children.”

However, others cautioned that legislating such policies is not necessarily a good thing.

Republican Rep. Mark Pody told the sponsor that while it’s a good bill, “I always have to ponder why we’re continuing to tell the locals what they have to do.”

The Lebanon representative, along with fellow Republicans Rep. David Alexander of Winchester and Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, voted against the bill.

“I think there’s good merit for the bill,” Holt told TNReport.com after the session. “But I think the bill did dabble into a little bit too much of a mandating sense. We can’t mandate everything about every potential liability that’s out there.

“I think that parents are smart enough. I think coaches and trainers are smart enough, and well positioned in addressing these issues without us having to file a piece of legislation that mandates it.”

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.