Scientologist-backed drug measure fizzles

St. Petersburg Times/May 9, 2001
By Robert Farley

After years of reworking, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Larry Crow, R-Palm Harbor, at the behest of an anti-psychiatry group established by the Church of Scientology has once again fallen short of becoming law.

The bill would have required schools to get parents' written permission to give non-prescription medicine to school children and would have allowed parents to opt their children out of some medical treatments. The Senate version of the bill passed unanimously. Crow's version made it out of two House committees with unanimous support. But in the chaotic crush of the final days of the legislative session, the bill never got a House-wide vote. "It was disappointing," Crow said Tuesday. "Sometimes that's the nature of the process. You can only push so far."

The bill has been championed by the Florida chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which approached Crow seven years ago and urged him to take up its cause against psychoactive drugs such as Ritalin. The international organization, established and run by Scientologists, denounces the "labeling" of youth as mentally ill and warns that the over-prescription of psychoactive drugs does more harm than good.

Crow has said he doesn't agree with much of Scientology's philosophy and does not oppose psychiatry. But he said he was convinced psychoactive drugs are over-prescribed. In 1999, he penned a bill that would have required a detailed parental consent form for children taking psychoactive drugs at school.

The bill died a quick death after strong opposition from drug companies, school boards, teachers, psychiatrists and psychologists. The bill underwent a major overhaul since then, and this year's version came with the blessing of the Pinellas County Medical Society.

The bill would have:

Required written parental permission for the administration of non-prescription medication.

Provided that a student is exempt from certain services under the school health services program if a parent requests such exemption in writing.

Limited transportation of a student to a medical treatment facility without parental consent.

The Senate version of the bill, introduced by Sen. M. "Mandy" Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale, passed 40-0. After passing through the House Education Innovation committee and the Council for Lifelong Learning with unanimous votes, Crow hoped what amounted to a non-controversial bill would similarly pass the House. But it died on the calendar on the final, hectic day of the legislative session.

"The House was in a state of chaos pretty much the whole day," Crow said. "There was an absolute crush of bills. It was wild. "A lot of times, bills that are not lobbyist-driven seem to get second priority," said Crow, a four-term legislator whose district includes parts of Pinellas Park, Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs.

Rosa Sollecito, Florida executive director for the Commission on Human Rights, traveled to Tallahassee to make a final push. "We were hopeful to the end," said the group's Florida president, David Figueroa. "There was no opposition.

"It is somewhat disappointing," he said. "But what is positive in this whole thing is that it passed unanimously in the Senate and also was received positively in the House. I think it really did enjoy widespread support."

Figueroa said the bill boils down to parents being given greater control over their children's education.

The Commission on Human Rights intends to continue pressing, he said. Crow was noncommittal. "I haven't begun to sift out what I'm going to do next time," Crow said. "I may come back with that, I may not. It's too early to tell."

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