Suncoast Mental Health Counselors Association

March 2020 Legislative Update

  • Friday, March 20, 2020 1:16 AM
    Message # 8844140
    AARON NORTON (Administrator)

    State Legislation

    Before reading this update, it may be helpful to understand the process that a bill journeys before becoming a law.  There are two chambers of the legislature-the House of Representatives and the Senate.  A bill has to be passed in both houses in order to go before the governor.  The governor then either signs the bill into law or vetoes it.  Prior to passing a bill in either legislate chamber, the bill must be passed by three committees in each chamber.

    • FMHCA's licensure portability bill has been passed!  In October, we published an article in FMHCA’s InSession Magazine on why licensure portability is so important in Florida as well as an overview of the National Counselor Licensure Endorsement Process (NCLEP 2.0), which AMHCA, NBCC, AASCB, and ACES all jointly developed (read it by clicking here).  We tried to pass a licensure portability bill last year but were unsuccessful.  This year, however, SB 230/HB 713, an omnibus health department bill, included the same verbiage as our bill last year.  It enables licensed counselors in other states to more easily get licensed here in Florida, requires new licensees to have a CACREP-accredited degree starting 7/1/25 (while grandfathering in all those who are already licensed), and includes some verbiage that stresses that LMHCs have training in diagnosing and treating mental disorders.  Read FMHCA's press release on this historic victory by clicking here.
    • FMHCA reached out to the 491 Board earlier this week to request that the board pass an emergency rule related to social distancing and COVID-19.  We asked the board to clarify that registered mental health counselor interns can provide therapy for their clients, even in private practice settings, without having to have a licensed mental health professional on the premises.  Additionally, we wanted the 491 board to temporarily allow qualified supervisors to provide ALL of their supervision hours with interns through webcam rather than requiring that at least half be conducted in person.  Read the emergency board rule by clicking here.
    • SB 782, which should have required 491 board licensees, including registered interns, to identify their credentials in their professional social media pages, died in committee. 
    • Some of you may recall that in August 2018 FMHCA warned us about F.S. 456.072(1)(k), which when cross-referenced with F.S. 491.009(1)(w) enables healthcare professionals to be fined and to have their licensed revoked for failing to repay student loans.  HB 115/SB 356, a bill that would discontinue this practice, passed in both the House and the Senate and is expected to soon be signed into law by Governor DeSantis!
    • HB41/SB180, which would have prohibited licensed healthcare professionals from providing conversion/reparative therapy for minors, did not pass this legislative session.  You may recall that Equality Florida wrote FMHCA and asked for its support of the bill (see their talking points by clicking here).  As President of FMHCA, I wrote a letter clarifying that FMHCA is a chapter of AMHCA (click here to read it), and that AMHCA has an official position opposing reparative therapy (read it here).  I then referred the request for support to the FMHCA Government Relationship Committee (GRC), which reviewed the bill and voted to officially support it.  Read the FMHCA press release by clicking here. We published an article in FMHCA’s InSession Magazine last month that provided more information about this bill as well as an update on licensure portability and discussion of the issue of the use of the term “psychological” in Florida.  Read it by clicking here.  We will likely support a similar bill next legislative session.
    • HB 209 / SB 1084, which would have provided additional regulation regarding emotional support animals (ESAs) and housing, did not pass this legislative session.  We have offered our clinical expertise for legislators considering a similar bill next year.
    • The 491 Board is piloting a new program called "Licensing Lucy," which would enable LMHCs and student/interns to do an automated check to see if they are missing anything in terms of documentation for licensure or renewal.  Stay tuned for an announcement.
    • The Dept. of Health is piloting an artificial intelligence (AI) system that would provide answers to frequently asked questions on the 491 board website.  Right now, the AI technology is being piloted by the pharmacy board.  Stay tuned for updates.  


    Federal Legislation

    • The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services (DHHS) issued a communication indicating that they will temporarily not prosecute counselors for using non-HIPPA-compliant platforms such as FaceTime and Skype to conduct telehealth sessions with clients during social distancing for COVID-19 as long as the counselor was acting in "good faith."  Read the details by clicking here.  For several reasons, counselors may still want to use HIPPA-compliant platforms such as Doxy (free for a basic plan or $35 per month for pro features) or Zoom Healthcare ($200 a month, though they may approve a reduction in $100 per month if requested) that offer signed business associate agreements.
    • The Mental Health Access Improvement Act (Senate Bill 286 and HR945), which would allow licensed counselors nationwide to bill Medicare, are still both in committee.  AMHCA has called on all licensed counselors to contact their legislators and urge them to support the bill.  Click here for more info on how to help.  The ACA announced that there are now more than 100 co-sponsors of the bill.  NBCC recently announced that they have joined the coalition and offered a call to action similar to those issued by AMHCA and ACA.
    • NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, has called upon substance abuse counselors to support the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, which "provides state and local governments with $100 billion in federal funding over ten years to expand access to evidence-based treatment and recovery support services. The bill also recognizes the importance of workforce development by authorizing $500 million in workforce development funding for professionals treating substance use disorders."  Click here for more info.
    • The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (HR4194/S2661), which would establish a national hotline for suicide prevention similar to the 911 system, are both still in committee.
  • Saturday, March 21, 2020 4:10 AM
    Reply # 8846497 on 8844140
    KEN DONALDSON LMHC CAP (Administrator)

    Thank you Aaron. Your involvement and commitment are very commendable. 

  • Saturday, March 21, 2020 12:22 PM
    Reply # 8846924 on 8844140
    Delia Janice LaTorre (Administrator)

    Your energy and commitment is inspiring! I've reached out to Representatives and Senators to support worthy causes as a result of your continued encouragement to stay informed and involved. It's so easy to put those things off when we're busy.  Thanks again for all the support you provide our profession!

Suncoast Mental Health Counselors Association is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.
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Suncoast Mental Health Counselors Association
P.O. Box 110002 
Bradenton, FL 34211

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