House lawmakers voted 161-7 on Friday to adopt a bill sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Pruett (R-Eastman) which adheres roughly to policies already adopted in 44 other states. The bill now heads to the state Senate.
Under the plan, primary and secondary schools would be required to create a policy intended to minimize serious injuries from concussions. It includes no penalties for violations.
The legislation would set minimum requirements for mandatory school policies, including distributing to parents or guardians of student athletes an information sheet describing the risks of concussions and head injuries. It would also require that young athletes be immediately pulled from games or practices if they show signs of a concussion and be examined by a health care provider. Those suffering from a concussion could not return to play until they are medically cleared.
Public recreation facilities would have to distribute information to parents and guardians, though they would be exempt from the other requirements faced by schools.
The plan gives wide discretion to schools. In addition to providing no sanctions, Pruett’s bill states that school and public recreation officials and volunteers cannot be held liable for decisions over whether to remove an athlete from play. Pruett said compromises were necessary to move the bill forward.
“If you knew the definition of a politician ... it should say the ability to compromise,” Pruett told lawmakers. “It should not say the ability to dictate. And that’s what I tried to do with the bill is put it to point where we could all compromise and come up with something we could all support.”
Most states have adopted rules similar to Washington state, which set a national standard in 2009 with a law named for a 16-year-old who suffered a life-threatening brain injury after returning to play football after a concussion.
The movement in many states has been aided by the National Football League, which has been sued by former players who accuse the league of not doing enough to protect them from concussions. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to U.S. governors in 2010 asking them help protect young players from concussions.
Legislation that failed in Georgia last year would have gone farther, for example, requiring that coaches take a concussion awareness course and requiring that parents sign and return information sheets on concussions. It also encouraged the use of computerized diagnostic testing to determine whether a player had been injured. Opponents had worried it might force small, cash-strapped schools to have medical personnel on the sideline of games.