California lawmakers sign controversial bill to expand support for school health centers

California Democrats criticized Republican senators for saying that student health centers could help minors access reproductive health care.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California lawmakers are in the final stages of sending potential legislation to expand funding and support for school health centers – which drew attack from Senate Republicans this week – for the governor’s consideration.

AB 1940 sparked a tense debate on the state Senate floor for nearly an hour Wednesday — the last day for amendments to desk as bills wind through the Legislature this month. It is designed to authorize student health centers in or near California schools, providing “age-appropriate, clinical health care services” from qualified health professionals, to help students who experience barriers to accessing other types of health care.

The bill authorizes health centers to provide primary medical care, behavioral health services or dental services onsite or via telehealth. If approved, the state will provide technical and renovation support to the health center through various grants. The bill eliminates the requirement for the state Department of Education to act as a liaison for school-based health centers, instead requiring the program to be supported by the California Department of Public Health.

Senate Republicans claimed the bill could somehow help schools access reproductive health care, pointing to language in the bill that would allow students to access information on reproductive health services.

Senator Rosilisi Ochoa Bogue of Yucaipa asked in what grade students can access information about all health services. She asked Senator Melissa Hurtado — the Democrat from Sanger, who carried the bill — who would pay for those services.

Hurtado said the bill would not change any local control exercised by each school district and locally elected school board, which ultimately decides what services student health centers can provide and how to finance them.

“I can assure you that no SBHC has provided abortion services to a child,” she said.

“I think there’s a lot of fear regarding this bill, it doesn’t really change the way parents are informed. It doesn’t change the medical consent law.”

Ochoa Bogue continued to attack the bill, citing Assembly Bill 1184, which takes effect this year, to amend the Medical Information Privacy Act to privatize minors’ health decisions such as “sensitive services” such as reproductive care from their policyholder parents.

“My concern with this particular bill would be that we’re now providing these services on campus without parents knowing, health-related or through their health plans, what’s being provided to their children,” she said.

Other Republicans also claimed the bill would reduce parental control over the health services their children can access at school — like Sen. Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore, who said, “We need to keep our noses out of medical (decisions).”

Senator Richard Pan of Sacramento, a physician, explains why student health centers are essential programs in California to help students with barriers to regular health care. Screenshot via Courthouse News.

Senator Sydney Kamalager, a Democrat from Los Angeles, asked other senators to read the bill more closely, pointing out that it would not extend any state control over parents’ existing rights over children’s health care. She said some children may seek care without their parents’ knowledge out of concern for their own safety — though she agreed with Melendez’s one statement, “Government should stay out of our vaginas.”

Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, Democrat of Stockton, said student health centers are an important resource for students to learn “help-seeking behaviors” to advocate for their own health and be able to get medical help when they need it.

She criticized Republicans for turning the Children’s Health Center debate into an issue of reproductive services.

“They want to politicize everything about reproductive rights, and that’s very offensive,” she said. “You want to demonize school nurses for talking about reproductive health, and that doesn’t change anything about parental consent. It simply says we’re going to pay for poor kids … these are poor kids who need school nurse help.”

Hurtado reminded the Senate that some schools in California already operate health centers, and the bill is designed to expand support for those programs.

With only eight “no” votes, AB 1940 passed and needed a final vote from the Assembly to go to the governor’s desk. All the bills have until August 31 to be successfully passed by both houses of the legislature.

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