Concussion prevention bill given wide support in public meeting

Concussion survivor Julia Hammond speaks to the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday

Concussion survivor Julia Hammond speaks to the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday

No opponents lined up to testify against a bill requiring schools remove students from participating in athletics if they show signs of a concussion. A long line of supporters spoke for well over an hour during a Friday hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 112 would require medical clearance before the student who received the concussion could start playing school sports again. The bill, sponsored by Senator Anders  Blewett (D-Great Falls) is being called the “Dylan Steigers protection of Youth Athletes Act.”

22 year-old Dylan Steigers was an Easter Oregon University football player who died from a concussion in 2010. Steigers was from Missoula. The Helena Independent Record reports he had received multiple concussions before the one which ultimately took his life.

“We have before us an opportunity to prevent injuries we know are going to occur, to reduce the risks,” Blewett said. The bill requires each Montana school district adopt a policy regarding the dangers of concussions. Coaches would be provided with information on how to recognize concussions.

“It does take appropriate training to deal with this injury,” said Billings sports medicine physician Benjamin Phipps. He says those with a concussion may show symptoms that require management years after the injury.

Concussion survivor Julia Hammond says she suffered a severe brain injury at 15 years-old when she was snowboarding with friends in 1999, “and my parents basically had a kindergartner on their hands,” she said about her mental state following the accident. She said recovery was a long and painful ordeal.

Senator Art Wittich (R-Bozeman) worries this could create new types of litigation or charges of negligence against schools.

The Senate Judiciary committee did not take action on the bill Friday.


Funding for crime prevention programs tabled in Senate committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Crime Prevention Group funding bill Friday

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Crime Prevention Group funding bill Friday

The Senate Judiciary Committee Friday tabled a bill which would create a fund for a variety of crime prevention programs in the state, from neighborhood watch organizations to drug education programs in schools. There was wide support for the bill’s core concept, but lawmakers did not agree with the funding source, a $10 surcharge to those convicted of crime.

Bill Sponsor, Huntley Republican Senator Taylor Brown says crime prevention efforts in communities are very successful. He says these groups are mostly run by volunteers and save Montanans money in law enforcement costs. They often struggle for funding themselves.

“This crime prevention bill is about much more than just starting a neighborhood watch program or using McGruff the Crime Dog to teach early awareness to your grandchildren, although it very well may help support efforts like that,” Brown said. He says the surcharge is a ‘user pays’ concept allowing “the ones who cause the crime to pay for crime prevention.”

That funding would create a grant program for crime prevention groups. Butte Addictions Counselor Dan Haffe says bad things happen to good people and the state has not worked hard enough to establish prevention programs in schools.

“I have taught hundreds of DUI classes,” Haffe said. “Hundreds of MIP classes and I see this as an opportunity to make great strides in working with people before they ever get to that felony status.”

Crime prevention groups themselves stood up in favor, the Montana County Attorneys Association, and the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers. Yet, spokesman Jim Smith pointed to what ended up being the problem.

“The surcharge is the sticky wicket here,” he said.

Montanans convicted of crimes already usually spend about $85 in surcharges. Public Policy Director of the Montana ACLU Niki Zupanic says surcharges are creating a system where those convicted of crimes are being saddled with funding parts of the justice system that everyone has a shared obligation to support.

“These costs, fees and assessments add up, and in the aggregate are a real barrier for low-income people to pay their debt, move forward, and put their mistakes behind them,” Zupanic said.

Bill sponsor Taylor Brown argues these fees in Montana are far lower than surrounding states. “We don’t hardly do anything, and maybe that’s fine when you’re a state that has very little crime, but that’s changing,” he said, referring to the oil boom in eastern Montana, and other factors like increasing gang and drug activity.

Ultimately, the bipartisan committee voted ten to two to table the bill.

Great Falls Democratic Senator Anders Blewett says everyone believes in crime prevention, but sponsors need to think of another way to fund it. Not surcharges.

Sponsor Taylor Brown says he did not want this fund to be drawn directly from taxpayers, but he will consider the idea for possibly drawing up a new bill to fund it through the State General Fund.