In the Community
What does it take to get a bipartisan bill passed in Lansing these days?
It takes a cause backed by thousands of supporters, said State Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis.
In an unprecedented case this month, it was mental health professionals united against the threat of being unable to care for their clients. House Bill 4325 was needed to protect 10,000 Michigan licensed professional counselors and about 300,000 of their clients.
“LPCs are essentially the front line in mental health care in Michigan,” Miller said.
Their services were in jeopardy late in the summer because of proposed changes by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
In 1988. LPC Dr. Sara Sue Schaeffer of Sturgis, was instrumental in getting a bill passed giving LPCs the authority to diagnose mental illness and psychotherapy. She served as the first chair of the Michigan Board of Counseling.
“If an illness is not diagnosed, it cannot be effectively treated,” Schaeffer said.
“The 1988 law included the term ‘counseling techniques’ which was defined by rule to include diagnosis,” Schaefer said. “Rule can clarify the law. but not expand it.”
The absence of the exact wording in law was the reason it was being examined by LARA, Schaefer said, “In spite of the fact that LPCs have been diagnosing for 31 years.”
Miller said, “Last session, former Rep. Jim Tedder (R-Clarkston) introduced HB 5776 of 2018, which essentially took the rules and enshrined them into law, preserving the status quo in the face of new LARA rules which would have decimated the (mental health) profession.”
Without diagnoses they could not provide counseling.
Tedder was term-limited and in the lame duck session things went crazy. An additional unpopular bill was dumped into the LPC bill at the last minute, Schaeffer said. The House did not support that bill, so it died.
Then Schaeffer called Miller.
“Despite the fact that I had never met Sue before, I agreed to co-sponsor HB 4325 because she said it codified current practice,” Miller said. “I had never met a constituent who knew as much as she did about the legislative process.”
In September, Miller met Andy Brown, a LPC from Kalamazoo.
“Andy came to my office in Three Rivers and informed me he started a Facebook group solely in support of passing the bill,” Miller said. “I immediately checked my phone to join it discovering that there were actually 3,500 members in the group.”
A week later, there were more than 4,000 members.
“I realized that the legislature was about to hear the issue loud and clear from thousands of regular people, most of whom knew nothing about the legislative process,” Miller said.
And they did. Every Lansing politician heard from the group.
“Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland), a good friend, saw me in the parking lot and said to me with a smile, ‘You. You’re the reason for my inbox being full. What do I have to do for you to stop getting 300 emails a day?’” Miller said.
Another told Miller, “I’ve never received so much about one bill in my career here.”
Then came the day of the hearing.
On Oct. 4, when the hearing for the LARA rules removing diagnosis was slated, 1,500 LPCs and supporters descended on Lansing to publicly comment against the LARA proposed rules and support HB 4325.
“Public comments lasted until the building had to close at 5 p.m. and there were still about 150 more people left to comment,” Miller said. “It was an army now, not just a group.”
The HB 4325 army still did not rest. On Oct. 8, “hundreds showed up and packed the hearing room for the Ways and Means committee hearing,” Miller said. “Part of the group filled the gallery during House session later in the day — an unprecedented occurrence for one bill.”
When the bill passed unanimously, Miller introduced the supporters in the gallery. It sounded like a home-team victory.
“Some were shouting, some were crying, and all were cheering and clapping in gratitude for the House moving their bill,” Miller said.
When the Senate unanimously passed the bill last week, the supporters had the same response.
“Every time it was voted on, it was unanimous,” Schaeffer said.
Now it is headed to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s desk for signing or veto, possibly on Oct. 29.
“A huge grassroots group came together on their own initiative, and relatively overnight, due to the pressure of losing their very profession,” Miller said. “They mobilized unlike anything I’ve
ever seen, certainly with no credit to me at all.”
Sturgis Consultation Center Owner Recognized - December 2, 2015
Our very own Dr. Sara Sue Schaeffer has not only been recognized for her professional achievement and contributions to
the field of counseling by the Michigan Mental Health Counseling Association (MMHCA), but the organization has additionally named this prestigious and annual award the "Dr. Sara Sue Schaeffer
Professional Achievement Award." All of the SCC staff are so proud of her accomplishments!