The battle over one most controversial issues from the last Tennessee legislative session may be heating up again.
Sen. Jack Johnson, a Republican from Williamson County, last year sponsored a bill that allowed counselors to turn away clients whose cases conflict with their religious beliefs. It was signed into law in April. He has followed up with Senate Bill 1, the first bill to be filed for the new legislative session. It would require the state to create a new code of ethics for counselors in Tennessee, rather than automatically accepting the code of ethics from the American Counseling Association (ACA).
“I would prefer our board of counseling in Tennessee to create our own code,” said Sen. Johnson. “In effect, we’re now delegating very important issues to an out of state group that has no Tennessee influence.”
Sen. Johnson said out of 52 jurisdictions in the United States, 33 do not adhere to the ACA code.
Sen. Johnson acknowledged the bill has already been met with mixed reviews.
The President-Elect of the Tennessee Counseling Association said she was “disappointed,” and “sad” the group will have to spend time and resources defending what they do and why.
She said no counselors requested the change, and Sen. Johnson did not consult with the group before filing the bill.
She also expressed concerns the bill would make it harder for counselors to move and become licensed in a new state, and could discourage patients from seeking care.
“Our members have already started making phone calls to make them know we don’t want this,” said Lisa Henderson, President-Elect of the Tennessee Counseling Association. “It there needs to be changes to the national code, that needs to be done through the national association.
The Tennessee Equality Project has also expressed concerns about the bill. Executive Director Chris Sanders said any new ethics codes would still allow counselors to turn away clients whose cases conflict with their beliefs--which unfairly targets the LGBT community.
Sen. Johnson said he hopes it starts a dialogue on the issue.
“Ultimately, I think we all have the same goal,” said Sen. Johnson. “To make sure people who need counseling can get it from people who are best able to provide that counseling.”
The next Tennessee legislative session starts Jan. 10.