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Senate approves youth concussion bill

OLYMPIA – Prompted by the case of a high school football player paralyzed after suffering 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 teenager 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 practice or a game. The athlete wouldn’t be allowed to play again until he or she is examined by a licensed health care provider.

The only lawmaker voting no was Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls. Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, voted to approve the legislation after speaking against the measure. Roach 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,” Roach said.

Lystedt’s injury was terrible, she said. But she suggested that the bill is an overreaction.

Most lawmakers, however, said they saw the bill as a needed protection.

“The bill does not say if you get hit in the head 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. Concussions have clear symptoms, she said. Major problems like bleeding in the brain, she said, “are infrequent but disastrous.”

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.