Legislature(1997 - 1998)

03/09/1998 09:06 AM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
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           SB 331 - PROFESSIONAL COUNSELOR LICENSING                           
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WILKEN informed committee members a new draft version of              
SB 331 was prepared (version B).                                               
                                                                               
SENATOR WARD moved to adopt CSSB 331 (version B) as the working                
document of the committee.  There being no objection, the motion               
carried.                                                                       
                                                                               
BETH HAGEVIG, legislative aide to Senator Wilken, gave the                     
following explanation of the measure.  CSSB 331 establishes a board            
to license and regulate experienced Masters and Doctoral level                 
professional counselors whose education and experience do not fall             
within the existing behavioral health specializations of Licensed              
Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist,                
Psychologist, or Psychological Associate.  This bill benefits                  
counselors because it opens doors to employee assistance programs              
that currently require that service providers be licensed to                   
qualify for their programs; it broadens career opportunities for               
counselors who wish to work for entities that require licensure; it            
provides incentive for Masters level behavioral health graduates of            
Alaska's university system to stay in state and take advantage of              
licensing opportunities that already exist in 44 other states; and             
it includes licensed professional counselors under Rule 504,                   
protecting them from contempt of court, in cases where client                  
confidentiality must be protected.                                             
                                                                               
MS. HAGEVIG explained CSSB 331 is good for Alaska's consumers                  
because it establishes a minimum standard of education and                     
experience that clients can trust, eliminating the buyer beware                
situation that currently exists.  It institutes grievance                      
procedures and gives legal recourse for clients of licensed                    
professional counselors who feel they have been victims of                     
fraudulent, unethical, or negligent practices.  It gives clients,              
who require mental health services, greater choice and comfort in              
choosing a provider that best suits their needs, both emotionally              
and financially, and it increases the availability of licensed                 
mental health providers who practice statewide, giving rural                   
residents better access to mental health care.  This bill has the              
support of the American Counseling Association (ACA),  the ACA of              
Alaska, the Alaska School Counselor Association, numerous                      
professional counselors and clients.                                           
                                                                               
Number 082                                                                     
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WILKEN pointed out a two-page document in committee                   
members' packets shows where Alaska fits into the scheme of                    
counselor licensing nationwide.  The remainder of the packet                   
contains letters of support.                                                   
                                                                               
SENATOR LEMAN noted SB 122, dealing with family and marriage                   
counselors, is currently in the House.  He asked Ms. Hagevig if any            
thought was given to combining the counseling and marriage and                 
family therapy boards into a common board, instead of creating a               
new board.  He commented he serves on a professional board made up             
of architects, engineers and land surveyors, and although the                  
professions differ, their common board is able to take care of the             
professional interests of all three groups.                                    
                                                                               
MS. HAGEVIG replied the counselors support combining the boards                
and are working with the marriage and family therapists' board                 
members on creating a joint board.  She suggested asking Pamela                
Watts and Ann Henry, from the American Counseling Association of               
Alaska, to address that question.                                              
                                                                               
Number 122                                                                     
                                                                               
ANN HENRY, a member of the American Counseling Association of                  
Alaska (ACAA), gave the following testimony.  SB 331 is a title                
restriction bill, rather than a practice restriction bill, which               
means that people can continue to practice counseling in Alaska if             
they are practicing now.  That arrangement will especially benefit             
the bush areas where counselors might now be practicing without the            
required education.  Nationally, 44 states have some kind of                   
licensure certification and 80,000 licensed professional counselors            
are nationally recognized.  As a private practitioner, clients are             
often referred to her, but because she is not a licensed                       
practitioner, employee assistance programs will not provide                    
insurance coverage for her services.  Managed care programs also               
require licensure.  Ms. Henry believes clients need to be able to              
choose their counselor.                                                        
                                                                               
MS. HENRY noted that in regard to Senator Leman's question about               
combining the two boards, the marriage and family therapists' board            
supports SB 331 and discussed, at its last meeting, the need to                
speak to ACAA about the possibility of combining the boards.  The              
ACAA definitely favors combining the boards.  She assumed that                 
counselors will not be a viable group for the family and marriage              
therapists' board to deal with until they get licensing                        
certification in Alaska.                                                       
                                                                               
Number 172                                                                     
                                                                               
PAM WATTS, President of the American Counseling Association of                 
Alaska, gave the following testimony.  When ACAA began efforts to              
require counselor licensure, it heard from several University of               
Alaska graduates who were having difficulty obtaining and                      
maintaining employment or advancing in their positions.  They                  
support licensure because the lack of licensure requirements is                
limiting employment opportunities for them after they graduate.  A             
second issue is that hundreds of Masters and Doctoral level                    
counselors are currently providing counseling services around the              
state.  ACAA is concerned that without licensure, they will not be             
able to practice, and in some cases, they are the only people                  
available in those areas to do this work.  Because they are trained            
to provide a range of counseling services that are not necessarily             
limited to the specialty licenses that Alaska currently has, such              
as marriage and family, or psychology or social work, they do not              
fit anywhere in the licensure scheme.  SB 331 offers consumer                  
protection, easier access to mental health services, and will                  
provide Alaskans the opportunity to pursue occupations within the              
state for which they have been trained.                                        
                                                                               
MS. WATTS reiterated that ACAA is interested in looking at                     
combining with the marriage and family therapists' board.  She                 
agreed that closely related fields can function very well on                   
combined boards.  She pointed out that other states, such as                   
Georgia, have an omnibus board that includes social workers,                   
chemical dependency counselors, licensed professional counselors               
and marriage and family therapists.  She thought creating a similar            
board in Alaska in the future would be fiscally responsible.                   
                                                                               
Number 227                                                                     
                                                                               
SENATOR LEMAN encouraged Ms. Watts to further the dialogue about               
combining the two boards because he thought SB 331 would be a good             
vehicle in which to do so this year.  He advised that if they do               
not combine boards, counselors will incur all of the initial costs             
of establishing a separate board which will increase the fees.                 
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WILKEN asked about the status of SB 122.                              
                                                                               
SENATOR LEMAN stated it is in the House and he believes it is                  
scheduled to pass.                                                             
                                                                               
ROBERT POUND, a counselor with Southcentral Counseling Center in               
Anchorage, testified in support of SB 331.  The Southcentral                   
Counseling Center has developed a system in which a person must be             
licensed to reach the highest level of clinician.  SB 331 would                
enable him to obtain a license and become a senior clinician.                  
Without a licensing requirement in Alaska, agencies are forced to              
find people outside of the state to fill these positions.                      
Requiring experience and education will ensure better quality                  
treatment to clients.  He received a professional counselor license            
in the State of Colorado around 1989.  That license allowed him to             
do contract work, EAP work, and to have a private practice.  The               
certification process requires a disclosure statement to be filled             
out by clients.  He found clients responded very positively and the            
ability to do so relieved clients of worry.  Mr. Pound believed SB
331 will have positive results on both counselors and consumers.               
                                                                               
Number 308                                                                     
                                                                               
ALLAN MOROTTI, representing the Alaska School Counselors'                      
Association, and the counseling program at the University of Alaska            
Fairbanks, gave the following testimony.  The Alaska School                    
Counselors' Association supports SB 331.  Many rural counselors                
feel that passage of SB 331 will improve the delivery of mental                
health services.  Students from the UAF program who end up                     
counseling in rural areas often find themselves functioning in the             
role of a crisis counselor.  As they move from site to site, the               
majority of their work is dealing with crisis issues, rather than              
the more traditional school counseling issues.  Passage of SB 331              
will allow those counselors to get the additional supervision                  
necessary to provide quality mental health services, and passage               
will allow many of UAF's graduates to move out into the mental                 
health agencies. Once employed by those agencies, the graduates                
feel pressured to acquire some type of licensure.  Many agencies               
hire out-of-state because of the lack of licensed practitioners in             
the state.  He believes the course work for Masters level                      
counselors nationwide, in the area of supervision, clinical hours,             
diagnosis and appraisal, compares favorably with the requirements              
for clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists.  He            
concluded by saying he strongly supports the bill both as an                   
individual and on behalf of the Alaska School Counselors'                      
Association.                                                                   
                                                                               
Number 371                                                                     
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WILKEN asked Mr. Morotti his opinion of combining the                 
counselors' board with the marriage and family therapists' board.              
                                                                               
MR. MOROTTI said he thinks it is a good idea because he sees no                
need to have a proliferation of boards providing mental health                 
services.                                                                      
                                                                               
DIXIE HOOD, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Juneau,              
and a member of the Board of Marital and Family Therapy, gave the              
following testimony.  As a 23 year Alaska resident and psychology              
professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, she moved to                  
California to complete a Masters in Counseling program for two                 
years.  That program required 3,000 supervised hours and an oral               
and written exam.  She was licensed in California and upon                     
returning to Juneau in 1985, contacted the Division of Occupational            
Licensing to find out what requirements she needed to meet to                  
practice.  Purchase of a business license was the only requirement             
until 1992.  She commented that marriage and family therapy is not             
a specialty field.  It is a theoretical approach in terms of                   
counseling individuals, couples, or family members within the                  
family systems approach and their interrelationships.  Marriage and            
family therapists also treat people with alcohol problems, serious             
chronic mental illness, and depression and anxiety.                            
                                                                               
MS. HOOD indicated at the February 10, 1998 Marital and Family                 
Therapy Board meeting, the Board expressed interest in supporting              
standards and licensure for professional counselors in Alaska, and             
in discussing with them consideration of a combined board.  The                
board has sought information from other states with omnibus boards             
to find out how their systems work.                                            
                                                                               
MS. HOOD commented she has testified on and followed SB 122; it is             
scheduled before the House Labor and Commerce Committee this                   
afternoon for a second hearing.  During the first hearing, held                
last week, information was requested and an amendment was                      
discussed.  The same amendment failed the Senate last year and                 
would have added licensed marriage and family therapists to a list             
of health care providers who cannot be discriminated against in                
third party reimbursements.  MS. HOOD believes it is important for             
consumers to have some trust in the amount of training and                     
experience required of mental health providers.  Licensure                     
requirements are also important for the professional in terms of               
standing in the professional community and employee assistance                 
programs and insurance companies.                                              
                                                                               
SENATOR LEMAN noted his memory of what happened regarding the                  
amendment differed from Ms. Hood's.  He recalled the amendment                 
passed the Senate but its passage created challenges in the bill               
that some did not want to address at the time, therefore the                   
amendment was removed and the bill passed.                                     
                                                                               
MS. HOOD added the amendment created a furor from chiropractors,               
dentists and other professionals.  The Omnibus Insurance Reform Act            
did not take up that amendment, therefore the Board of Marital and             
Family Therapy is hoping it will be taken up in SB 122 or in                   
another venue.                                                                 
                                                                               
There being no further testimony on SB 331, CHAIRMAN WILKEN                    
announced the committee would hold the bill to investigate whether             
it can be incorporated into SB 122 or vice versa.                              
                                                                               
SENATOR LEMAN stated whether SB 122 is the right vehicle in which              
to combine the boards or not, he thought the Legislature should                
consider combining the two boards and use a separate piece of                  
legislation if necessary.                                                      
                                                                               
CHAIRMAN WILKEN indicated the bill would be brought before the                 
committee on Wednesday and a report on SB 122 would be provided.               

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