Oklahoma SB 1700, while it contains all three elements of the model Lystedt law, is very bare bones legislation, the equivalent of two pages long. What we proposed - Oklahoma SB 1790 - was much more detailed (seven or eight pages). It was officially introduced into the Oklahoma Legislature in February 2014 by Senator Patrick Anderson and Representative Mike Jackson.
On February 17, 2014, it was approved by the Health and Human Services committee, and on March 5, 2014, it passed the Senate by a vote of 32 to 13, with members of our group in the gallery watching. I wanted to speak on behalf of the proposed legislation in committee, which our lobbyist, Lisette Barnes, thought was a great idea, but I never got to share my story or testify.
Surprisingly, there are also was no media coverage until after the Senate vote, when the local media (The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World) finally began to pick up on the fact that changes to the state's concussion law were nearing passage. I reached out to all the local television news outlets, but none picked up the story
The bill was then sent to the House of Representatives, where SB 1790 was referred to the Common Education Committee, which voted 16 to 1 to send it to the House floor for its third and final reading. Along with the other members of our group, I was extremely optimistic that the changes we had proposed would pass, even when The Oklahoman and Tulsa World began to ramp up coverage and the general public became aware of the bill. In fact, we were led to believe by legislative insiders that the bill would pass easily .
The only comment or complaint that we learned about was regarding the language in Section H, which someone suggested be narrowed so that it would only require coaches and volunteers in "collision sports" to go through concussion training, instead of coaches and volunteers in all sports. (I later learned that we did not get revised language submitted in time.) Aside from the language in Section H, there was no indication that there were any obstacles to passage. The bill's co-sponsor, Senator Anderson, even went so far as to predict that the bill would be signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin on May 1st.
Given that there was no organized opposition to the law by anyone, we were caught very off guard when, on April 15, 2014, the Oklahoma House of Representatives, by a vote of 39 votes for and 46 against, voted down Oklahoma SB 1790. When, two days later, a motion to reconsider failed, the bill was dead for the 2014 legislative session. [For those interested in watching the discussion of the bill on the House floor, click here]
After the vote, we learned that several groups in the private sector which employ volunteers did not feel that their volunteers should be required by law to become educated about concussions. There was also concern, apparently, that volunteers might be held liable for concussion injuries, despite the fact that, like SB 1700, SB 1790 would have immunized volunteers except for gross negligence or wanton or willful conduct. Ironically, just recently, I found out from a friend in Oklahoma City, whose daughter signed up to play YMCA soccer this summer, that her coaches are being required to go through concussion training. The reason, I was told, was “because too many coaches were sending kids back into the game after getting hit.”
To say that we were a bit shocked by the outcome would be an understatement. It was unfortunate that legislators did not view concussion safety in Oklahoma as a priority. In the weeks since the vote, I've been asked what we could have done differently or what else could we have done to ensure the passage of SB 1790. The only thing that we could have done better would have been to reach out to more legislators and educate them on why it was so important that SB 1790 be passed. I know that I did absolutely everything I could to educate legislators, given my work schedule. I sent emails to every single legislator in both the Senate and House, especially from my district, to seek out their support and to answer any questions they had, but never heard anything back.
Needless to say, the defeat of SB 1790 still stings, and it hasn't helped getting emails that completely miss the point of the proposed legislation, such as the lengthy one I got recently from a man who said he had been a high school football official for 25 years (and happened to also be an attorney), who expressed relief that the bill did not pass because he did not feel that as an official who already has to go through training via NFHS he should have to go through training again. Essentially, his argument was why mandate something that is already being done? But anyone reading his email could sense, reading between the lines, that his concern was not about the safety of athletes; it was about him and all the stuff HE would have to now do. The fact is that the reason for mandating training is because not ALL officials are like him, and not all have the “training” he claims he already has.
Continuing to work for concussion safety
Oklahoma SB 1790 reflected the latest thinking of experts on concussion management, and return to learn and return to play protocols. Had it passed, it would have been one of the toughest pieces of concussion legislation in the country. Unfortunately, concussion safety in Oklahoma will continue to reflect the outdated language of the 2010 legislation, which will continue to allow coaches and game officials to put youth and student-athletes at risk by allowing them to play with concussion signs or symptoms and returning them to play too soon.
At least it will until next year, when we will re-introduce the bill.
In the meantime, if you are a parent, coach, or athlete who lives in Oklahoma, or any other state with a concussion safety law that does not mandate concussion education for coaches or penalize coaches for violating its provisions, I encourage you to get involved in lobbying your state legislature to update the law.
I also encourage you to be pro-active in doing what you can to make sure your child's sports program, whether it be at the youth, middle school or high school level, has implemented a comprehensive concussion risk management program like the Six Pillar program featured in MomsTEAM's PBS documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer."
As an Oklahoman, I am proud that The Smartest Team was filmed in Newcastle, Oklahoma, and of the efforts of two concerned mothers of football players on Newcastle's high school football team, who, working with the entire community and MomsTEAM's Brooke de Lench, helped to reduce the team's concussion rate by 75% in one year, and made the sport safer for every player. The documentary provides a template that every school, regardless of the sport, can implement, and I urge every parent with a child playing contact or collision sports to watch it.
In the meantime, I will continue my work with Concussion Connection to educate parents and athletes about concussion, and to go back to the Oklahoma legislature in 2015 in the hopes of passing a stronger Lystedt law.
1. C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, Vol. 10, Issue 1 (June 14, 2010)
2. Tomei KL, Doe C, Prestigiacomo, Gandhi CD. Comparative analysis of state-level concussion legislation and review of current practices in concussion. Neurosurg Focus 2012;33(6):E11.
You can follow Lauren on Twitter @concussionconnect.concussconnect