State Legislation Affecting LGBTQ+ Clients
Governor DeSantis recently signed tow bills into law raising ethical concerns for counselors in Florida.
The first is SB 254. Among other things, this bill restricts physicians from prescribing puberty blockers and providing sex-reassignment surgeries to minors (with an exclusion built in for some minors who are already receiving such care). Such restrictions have recently been enacted in several other states and in some countries in Europe. Though this law does not appear to prohibit 491 board licensees from providing gender affirming psychotherapy, it will impact adolescent clients who do not wish to wait until they are adults to be prescribed puberty blockers or participate in sex-reassignment surgeries.
The second is SB 1580, which allows healthcare providers to decline to participate in healthcare services that conflict with the provider’s documented conscience-based (i.e., moral, ethical, or religious) objections. Additionally, it appears to prohibit universities from taking disciplinary actions against healthcare students who have appropriately raised such objections. This bill was backed by the Florida Medical Association and, based on a review of the staff analysis related to the bill, appears to have initially been written, in part, with the intention of allowing physicians to refuse to provide abortions if abortions conflict with their moral and religious beliefs. However, the bill can can adversely impact the counseling profession, regardless of whether such impact was intentional, if, for example, a counselor (or counseling student) were to refuse care to clients because of clashes between the counselor's religious beliefs and the client's sexual orientation or gender identity.
The codes of ethics of both AMHCA (I.C.2.a on page 8 of 2020 edition) and ACA (C.5 on page 9, of the 2014 edition) prohibit counselors from discriminating against clients based on sexual orientation and gender identity and from denying care based solely on the counselor’s personal beliefs (see A.11.b on page 6 of the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics and I.A.4.d on page 4 of the 2020 AMHCA Code of Ethics). We at FMHCA stress that while legal and ethical standards frequently overlap, they sometimes clash. Legal standards generally establish minimal standards for the profession, whereas ethical standards often hold counselors to a higher standard.
FMHCA calls upon counselors to hold themselves to a higher ethical standard, even when the law permits them to do otherwise.
Member Question: Did Governor DeSantis Veto the Counseling Compact?
FMHCA’s Government Relations Committee (GRC) has received requests from members for additional information on news stories announcing that Governor DeSantis vetoed HB 385, a bill that would authorize fees to be collected for counselors in other states to apply for the privilege to practice in Florida. Some members have questioned whether this veto means that (a) Governor DeSantis no longer supports the Counseling Compact and/or (b) Florida is no longer part of the Counseling Compact.
FFMHCA’s GRC has been advised by our lobbyist that Governor DeSantis is following through with a commitment to veto all fee bills and that the veto is not an indicator that he does not support the compact, which he signed into law on 4/6/22 in a historic action making Florida one of the first 10 states to join the compact. We have been advised by the 491 Board that the bill was not necessary in order for Florida to maintain its place in the Counseling Compact, that applicants seeking the privilege to practice in Florida will be funded through the 491 Board’s trust fund, and that the Board is moving forward with implementation of the compact, which is projected to go into effect in early 2024.
We hope this clarification will help ease the minds of members who have expressed concern about the veto, and we wish to reiterate our commitment to supporting the Counseling Compact in Florida.
SunCoast Mental Health Counselors Association
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