Senate panel aims to give kids broad right to seek counseling

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The Senate Health and Welfare Committee wants to let minors consent to mental health treatment to address any concern.

The committee is seeking to expand H.230, which would allow minors to get counseling related to their sexual orientation or gender identity without needing parental permission.

"We know that you don't have to be LGBTQ to be depressed, or have feelings of suicide, or wanting to hurt yourself," said Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, the chair of Health and Welfare. "It's a shame that you have to be qualified by being LGBTQ."

"We looked at what 25 or 30 other states do, maybe 34, and thought, `This makes sense,'" Ayer said. "The issue is not avoiding parents. Most people who go to counseling that way say, `I can't tell my parents. How do I tell my parents?' That's the issue."

"What we learned about it is that it's more likely to bring more kids back to their parents, to get their parents to help them with the problems they have," she said. "Kids underestimate their parents and their caregivers very often."

"They say, `I can't talk about this,'" Ayer said. "And then they find out, your parents knew all along, or your parents kind of step up when someone helps you explain to them, and we see it as a good thing."

The committee already passed the updated version of the bill 5-0. However, the full Senate delayed the vote on the bill so the committee could take more testimony Thursday.

If the Senate passes the new version of the bill, the House will need to decide whether to approve the changes. The House could also call for a committee of conference to negotiate a new version of the bill.

Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, the chair of the House Health Care Committee, said his panel had similar discussions about expanding the bill.

"Questions were raised — as an example, well, what if a child is being abused in some way, and it's their parents?" Lippert said. "Shouldn't they be able to go access mental health care and not get their parents' permission?"

Lippert said his committee would need to look at whether it has time to consider the revised bill. He did not say whether his committee or the full House would concur or go to conference.

Also Wednesday, the Senate passed H.145, a bill to create a mental health response commission, and H.184, a bill that aims to find out why Vermonters take their lives, so the state can improve suicide prevention efforts.

Those two bills also move over to the House, which can vote to accept the Senate's changes or to create a conference committee.

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