NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMOT) -- As state lawmakers begin a new session, WMOT News is exploring the legislative priorities of the state's most influential political leaders and organizations.
Lisa Henderson is President-elect of the Tennessee Counseling Association. Henderson says the Association’s legislative focus will be a proposed bill they believe will damage the counseling profession in Tennessee.
Republican lawmaker Jack Johnson of Brentwood introduced Senate Bill One (SB001), the measure would place additional faith-based restrictions on counseling guidelines.
Henderson notes that the current state adopted code of counseling ethics was chosen 25 years ago by Tennessee professionals.
“So this was a decision that was made by Tennesseans for Tennesseans and this legislation would override Tennessean’s right to choose what codes of ethics they adhere to.”
The Johnson bill would add to a law passed last year that allows Tennessee counselors to turn patients away for personal reasons (HB1840). Proponents say the measure protects a counselor’s First Amendment rights. Detractors believe the law is an attack on the gay community. The new legislation would essentially require Tennessee to right its own counseling code of ethics.
Henderson says that could complicate licensing, make liability insurance hard to get, and even jeopardize Medicare, Medicaid and TriCare funding.
“That would be really damaging to counselor’s individual practices and the small businesses that they operate, and then it would also restrict access to desperately needed care in a very vulnerable population.”
Henderson says last year’s bill did damage to the client-counselor relationship and she fears this new measure will make matters even worse.
EDITOR'S NOTE: WMOT News has contacted Senator Jack Johnson offering him an opportunity to talk about SB0001 and his legislative agenda for the 2017 session.