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Legislators bench concussions bill aimed at youth rec leagues

RICHMOND—The House of Delegates has essentially killed a bill that would have required youth recreation leagues to develop concussion policies for kids who play their sports.

The bill, from Sen. Ralph Northam, had passed the Senate and made it as far as the House floor. But there, delegates raised questions about its potential cost and potential liability for volunteer coaches.

While a bid Wednesday to send it to the Appropriations committee failed, Thursday’s move to refer it to the Courts committee—which won’t be meeting again before the General Assembly adjourns this year’s session—succeeded.

The bill would have required non-school youth sports programs that play on public school property to either develop a policy on how to identify and deal with possible concussions, or follow the school’s concussion policies.

It was Northam, a pediatric neurosurgeon, who pushed the law a few years ago requiring public schools to develop concussion policies for student athletes.

Delegates who wanted to send Northam’s bill to the Courts committee said they did so not because they don’t think concussions are important, but because the bill raised liability issues.

“It could set up a whole new standard for concussions and what a volunteer coach would have to do,” said Del. Terry Kilgore, R–Gate City. “I just think this is a great idea, but it’s something we need to work on and make sure we get it right. I’m all for the policy if we get it right.”

Del. Jennifer McClellan, D–Richmond, objected, saying the bill was fully vetted by the House Education committee.

“To the extent that a coach faces liability they face that now whether we pass that bill or not,” McClellan said. “What this bill actually will do will help those coaches and those students recognize the signs of a concussion to get treatment.”

McClellan said statistics show concussions are on the rise among kids who play sports, and that the bill just requires youth leagues to have a policy or follow the school’s policy. Del. Greg Habeeb, R–Salem, said he was frustrated to hear other delegates say that the Education committee, which heard the bill, discussed liability issues but didn’t refer the bill to Courts, which is packed with lawyers.

“It absolutely opens up a whole new area of liability” for youth associations, Habeeb said. “You are exposing every church league, every day care, every summer camp in Virginia to a new standard . We should take a year to evaluate this.”

The House voted 53–40 to send Northam’s bill back to Courts and effectively kill it for this year.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245