SENATOR CAROZZA’S HEALTH CARE AND CHILD CUSTODY BILLS HEARD IN COMMITTEE
Senator Mary Beth Carozza today had hearings for two pieces of legislation she introduced. Senate Bill 355—Family Law – Custody Evaluators – Qualifications and Training was heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and Senate Bill 139—Interstate Occupational Therapy Licensure Compact was heard in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.
“Serving on the Workgroup to Study Child Custody Court Proceedings Involving Child Abuse or Domestic Violence Allegations has been one of the most important public service assignments that I have been a part of, especially given the magnitude of the trauma that many children and protective parents experience going through court custody proceedings involving child abuse or domestic violence allegations,” Senator Carozza said during her testimony in strong support of Senate Bill 355.
“My legislation takes a targeted, commonsense approach to improve the custody evaluation process, resulting in better protection for the safety and well-being of children, many who experience trauma, going through a custody court proceeding involving child abuse or domestic violence,” testified Senator Carozza.
Senate Bill 355 establishes that the qualifications of a custody evaluator include having a master’s degree in a qualified field and complete at least 60 hours of initial specified training and 10 hours of continuing education and training every 2 years. A custody evaluator is a health professional tasked with evaluating the well-being of a child and their interactions with both parents in custody hearings.
Senator Carozza was joined in her hearing by Katie Spearman, a protective parent whose custody evaluator received no formal training on cases involving sexual abuse. Additionally, the high costs involved with the custody evaluator and other legal expenses have left Ms. Spearman in a desperate financial situation involving Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Senate Bill 139 would establish an interstate licensure compact for occupational therapists. This means that occupational therapists can work across state lines, just as long as they are licensed by a member state of the compact. The Maryland General Assembly already has enacted similar legislation for nurses, physicians, and physical therapists.
“As I worked with health care providers during COVID-19 during the interim, it was brought to my attention by members of the Maryland Occupational Therapy Association that this interstate occupational therapy licensure compact would have a direct benefit in increasing access to care, especially in districts like mine which are bordered by states, Delaware to the north, and Virginia to the south,” Senator Carozza noted. “Licensure compacts offer an important pathway to ensuring our health care facilities and providers have a sufficient number of qualified providers, making it easier for licensed health care practitioners from neighboring states to work in our hospitals and programs in our communities.”
“Many of our districts are hard hit by health care workforce shortages. As local occupational therapist Dorri Gowe-Lambert testified, passage of my licensing compact bill would allow therapists licensed in our neighboring states to practice in our rural areas of Maryland.”
Also testifying in support of Senate Bill 139 was Occupational Therapist Dorri Gowe-Lambert, who owns Building Bridges Pediatric Therapy Services in Salisbury and Easton. Her practice shifted to telehealth services in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to current licensure laws, Gowe-Lambert was unable to provide continuity of care to her clients who technically resided in Delaware or Virginia.
In her testimony, Ms. Gowe-Lambert highlighted the need to establish the Interstate Professional Licensing Compact for Occupational Therapists.
“I had to write to those licensure boards in other states and request special permission in order for those children to continue their much needed services. This took weeks and disrupted their plan of care,” testified Ms. Gowe-Lambert.
Senate Bill 139 has the support of the Maryland Occupational Therapy Association, the Board of Occupational Therapy Practice, Maryland Rural Health Association, and the Maryland Hospital Association.