Prompted by the case of a high school football player paralyzed by two concussions, Washington's state Senate on Monday approved a bill that would require a medical check before such players are allowed back in the game.
“This bill would protect children. That's really what it's all about,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, the bill's prime sponsor.
The House passed a similar bill unanimously last week.
Both bills were spurred by Maple Valley teen Zack Lystedt, who as a junior-high student in 2006 slammed head-first into the field while tackling a runner. After a break, he returned to the game. Minutes after it ended, he collapsed, unable to see. Three years later, the brain damage has left him unable to walk.
Senate Bill 5763 would require that any player suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury be removed from the practice or game. The athlete wouldn't be allowed to play again until he or she is checked out by a licensed health care provider.
One of the few to speak against the bill was state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. She said she's worried that the bill could require parents to take their kids to a doctor for minor bumps.
“Sometimes it's just a little bonk on the head,” said Roach.
Yes, Lystedt's injury was terrible and unfortunate, she said. But she suggested that the bill's an overreaction.
“What would be like having 4-5 drownings a year -- which we do have -- so we go in and fill in all the backyard swimming pools?” she said. “We forbid people from swimming in lakes?”
Sen. Don Benton argued that the bill could curtail youth sports by forcing them to have a doctor on the sidelines.
“Nobody wants to shut down youth football or youth basketball, and this could do that,” he said. Both he and Roach voted for the bill.
Most lawmakers said they see the bill as a needed protection for kids.
“The bill does not say if you get hit in th ehead with a volleyball you can't come back and play until you have a note from your doctor,” said Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley. There are clear symptoms of a concussion, she said. Major problems like bleeding in the brain, she said, “are infrequent but disastrous.”
Coaches and parents aren't necessarily as vigilant as they should be about injuries in the heat of a game, said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.
The Senate bill says that the licensed health care provider can be a volunteer. It also exempts the person from civil liability, except in cases of gross negligence.
NOTE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Roach had voted against the bill. She did not. The lone vote against the bill was from Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls.UPDATE: Here's Roach: