13-second bill that explained nothing – but all committee members approved it

What wasn’t mentioned? Physicians and emergency medical personnel could provide emergency medical care to a minor at any location without the consent of parents

By: - January 26, 2022 7:00 am

A coach talking to soccer players. Credit: Alistair Berg, Getty Images.

Last week, state Rep. Ralph Massullo, a dermatologist, came before a public health-related subcommittee in the state House to present legislation connected to minors. The committee chairman asked Massullo to present his bill.

“Thank you Mr. Chair, committee. [HB] 817 simply enables physicians to provide emergency care to minors outside of a hospital or college health service system without parental consent,” Massullo told lawmakers.

That was the bill – the whole 13 seconds.

There were no questions, no debate. Lawmakers unanimously approved the bill, 16-0, with four missed votes.  In all, the entire discussion lasted less than two minutes – and still – the public would have no idea about the details.

In the Florida Legislature, the pace can be fast at certain times, but the 13-second bill on Jan. 19 appeared unusual, raising questions about how the Legislature conducts its business and whether the public is in the dark on serious issues related to emergency care for minors without parental consent.

In fact, HB 817 is a bill that could potentially cause controversy.

What wasn’t mentioned

What wasn’t mentioned that day was that the legislation would broaden the current law considerably.

Right now, parental consent is required for a physician to provide emergency medical care to a minor outside of a hospital or college health service, according to a legislative analysis. Consent also is required for emergency medical services personnel to perform emergency care outside of a what’s called a prehospital setting, like at an accident scene or in an ambulance.

But the bill goes much further: It would allow “physicians and emergency medical personnel to provide emergency medical care or treatment to a minor at any location without the consent of the minor’s parents,” according to a legislative analysis.

There were no examples in the bill but, presumably, a location could mean a restaurant, a car wreck, an injury on a soccer field, and numerous other places.

The concept of parental consent is so important because, “It is well settled that the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children is perhaps the oldest of the recognized fundamental liberty interests protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” according to the analysis.

In 2020, the Florida Legislature approved an abortion bill related to parental consent for minors seeking abortions. And in the the 2021 legislative session, state Rep. Erin Grall pushed for the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which gave parents more power over local school board policies.

On Monday, the Florida Phoenix briefly spoke with Massullo in the state Capitol.

State Rep. Ralph Massullo. Credit: Florida House of Representatives.

He simply said the bill is important because it addresses emergency situations involving minors who are involved “in a wreck or in a restaurant, when you want the physician to be able to treat you as a normal person would. … [I]t just authorizes that,” Massullo said.

Massullo’s bill was presented on the same day a proposed 15-week abortion ban was heard by the Professions & Public Health subcommittee, where several activists and other groups were eager to provide public testimony. It isn’t clear if Massullo would have wanted to hurry up on his bill – to allow for the dozens of speakers in line for abortion-related testimony.

An identical bill, HB 1114, in the Florida Senate, is sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer Bradley, who represents several Northeast Florida counties.

Senators discussed the bill

Bradley presented her bill on Jan. 18 and spent more than two minutes explaining it and took questions afterward.

“We certainly do not want a physician to hold back from rendering lifesaving aid in a situation outside the hospital,” said Bradley. “So this bill corrects that by allowing physicians to provide emergency medical treatment to minors anywhere such treatment is needed, not just in hospitals or college health services.”

During the discussion, state Sen. Tina Polsky questioned Bradley about concerns involving the Parents’ Bill of Rights. Polsky is a Democrat representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

“Because we did talk about this last year, during the [Parents’] Bill of Rights and some of us had concerns about this particular instance, just to be clear, this bill, if passed, will override that prohibition from last year’s [Parents’] Bill of Rights?” Polsky told members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

Bradley responded: “I wouldn’t say that it overrides the prohibition, I would say right now there’s a statutory exception for when parental consent is required. And I think that this clarifies that exception for parental consent to make sure that it’s for not only the hospital but for outside as well, the scene of an accident or a sporting event.”

Meanwhile, the Florida Medical Association, Florida Osteopathic Medical Association and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians expressed support in efforts to expand doctors’ rights to treat kids without parental consent during medical emergencies.

The Phoenix is awaiting a response from FMA about its support in pushing the legislation.

Bradley told the Phoenix in a text message Tuesday that “the concern this bill addresses was shared with me by local doctors, local medical societies, the FMA and others.”

In a phone interview earlier, Bradley explained that the initiative addressing emergency care for young kids came about after doctors expressed fears over when they could legally treat a child in an emergency situation.

State Sen. Jennifer Bradley. Credit: Florida Senate.

“There’s a multitude of doctor groups that reached out with genuine concern about whether or not they would be protected and I thought this is an area that we have to make sure that our physicians are clear on what their parameters are, so I filed the bill to clear up that ambiguity,” she said.

Bradley further explained: “So physicians were concerned about what happens, say, they are driving along the road and they witness an accident or they are at a game with their kids. And if there’s an injury, they want to step in and not worry about being criminally liable for providing that care without the written parental consent.”

“We want our physicians to have clear guidance. … We don’t want them to fear liability and certainly don’t want them to fear a criminal charge,” she said.

Although the bill doesn’t specify what other settings outside of a hospital or an ambulance where a physician would be able to treat a child during an emergency, Bradley told the Phoenix that it would apply to sports games and other locations.

“They could be walking to a grocery store and a kid collapses; anywhere that” an emergency takes place, she added.

Stephen Winn, executive director of the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association, described a scenario where a kid has suffered a serious head injury during a sporting event. “Right now I cannot treat that child because we don’t have the parents’ consent to do that,” he said in phone conversation.

Winn explained that his association does support the bill, adding that the proposal is important for protecting all types of licensed medical doctors. FOMA is a statewide association supporting osteopathic physicians whose practices focus on the musculoskeletal system.

“This [proposed] law means that a physician arrives at a scene of an automobile accident and sees a child bleeding to death, they can treat the child. If it’s life or death, we want to let the physician step in and save that child’s life,” Winn said.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.

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