The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee on Tuesday gave a favorable report to a bill that would authorize the State Department of Education to hire mental health coordinators in a program with the Department of Mental Health.

House Bill 123 (HB123) is sponsored by House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville).

HB123 would require that every local board of education have a mental health coordinator. The bill would hire 149 mental health coordinators, one for every public school system in the state.

Ledbetter said that he has been working for three years on finding a solution to address some of the mental health needs of the state and that he has been heavily influenced by recent suicides of students in his local school, where his son is a sports coach. The state has been hiring mental health coordinators for the past two years through a grant-type program. This bill will put one in every school system and will be in addition to any mental health coordinators that are already there. Several legislators in the House of Representatives expressed the belief that this should be in every individual school.

A similar bill, by Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), which also added 149 mental health coordinators, was defeated recently in the Senate. Ledbetter said that his bill differs from Smitherman’s bill in that his bill does not have the same data reporting requirements.

Alabama Eagle Forum opposes HB123.

1819 News spoke with members of Alabama Eagle Forum, including executive director Becky Gerritson, at the State House immediately following the committee’s passage of the bill. She said that providing mental health services to children in school goes beyond the mission of the school system and that no mental health services should be provided in schools without the knowledge and consent of the parents. There are already school counselors in the school, and the Alabama Eagle Forum believes this is an unnecessary growth in the size and mission of government.

HB123 received a favorable report from the committee on a 12-0 vote and could be considered by the full Senate as soon as Wednesday. Wednesday will be Day 25 of the 2022 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.

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