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Plan to get tough on concussions stalls in committee over legal concerns

Plan to get tough on concussions stalls in committee over legal concerns

Dustin Hurst
March 18, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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March 18, 2010

Reps. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, and Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, want Idaho to get tough on concussions, but their legislation doing that has, for now, stalled in the House State Affairs Committee.

Smith presented the legislation to committee members, in hopes of providing a way for youth athletes participating in state-funded sports to gain additional protections from concussions. Parents of athletes who participate in contact sports would be required to sign a yearly concussion information sheet, informing them of the health risks of the injury.  Information sheets would be required to be returned to the coach by the second practice session for the respective team and sport.

If it is suspected that an athlete has suffered a concussion, the legislation directs coaches to immediately remove that athlete from the sporting event, regardless if it is practice or a game.  Before the athlete is allowed to return, he must show written authorization from a licensed medical provider before returning to the activity.

The legislation also outlines the duties of the Idaho State Board of Education in preventing concussions.  The board is ordered to collaborate with the Idaho High School Activities Association in developing programs for coaches, players, and parents on the risks of concussions.  The bill does not mandate training for coaches, but only seeks to make available training materials.  The legislation would not apply to private sports organizations, but would only apply to publicly-funded sporting activities.

Perhaps the most stirring testimony of the hearing came from Roy Breckenridge, whose son, Court, became permanently disabled after suffering a series of concussions in 2005.  Breckenridge told lawmakers that during his son's last football game in 2005, Court made a hard tackle that eventually led to him having a seizure on the field.  The elder Breckenridge, an operating room nurse, immediately called for life flight to get Court from the hospital in Driggs to Idaho Falls and a more advanced medical facility.  He told lawmakers that his son spent several weeks in a coma and had his brain swell to almost triple normal rates.  Doctors eventually had to remove a piece of Court's skull to deal with the swelling.

What did the elder Breckenridge learn from the tragic event?  He said that he known about the dangers of concussions, his son would not have been allowed to return to the field after suffering a concussion earlier in the season.

Also standing in support of Smith's bill was Dr. Caroline Faure, a professor at Idaho State University (ISU), who specializes in concussion studies and prevention.  Faure urged lawmakers to support the legislation as a way to spread information about the injury, which she says, often goes underreported due to lack of information or understanding of symptoms.   Helping parents and coaches fully comprehend concussions, argued Faure, will protect the brains of young athletes, which are typically more susceptible to concussion than those of older athletes.

The ISU professor said she has distributed more than 20,000 flyers that outline the dangers of concussions, but she admits that "we still have a long way to go" in the education process.   Faure has also been involved in putting on conferences that teach concussion-awareness.

Reps. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, and Brent Crane, R-Nampa, all expressed concerns over liability language in the legislation.  The trio of lawmakers worried that if a coach doesn't pull a player from a game if a concussion is suspected, that the coach and school could be subject to a lawsuit.

The committee voted to hold the legislation until Monday, which will give Smith and Chavez to get an opinion from the attorney general's office.

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