Concussion Legislation Could Inadvertently Protect Bad Coaches

At a bill hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee (2016-01-28), MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified against legislation (HB 29) that would create new penalties and appeal rights for coaches that violated the State’s requirements for the removal and return of minors suspected of sustaining a concussion during sports events. Knapp argued that while well-intentioned, the bill could actually restrict the existing ability of county-run athletic programs to remove bad coaches and be nearly impossible to enforce against coaches of independent youth sports programs.

In response to MACo concerns the bill’s primary sponsor, Delegate Mark Chang, proposed amendments to remove county-run programs and independent youth sports programs from the bill and Knapp indicated that would remove MACo’s opposition if adopted. Knapp was joined by the Maryland Association of County Park and Recreation Administrators (MACPRA) President and Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks Director Rick Anthony, who answered many of the technical questions posed by the Committee members. From MACo’s testimony:

Both MACo and [MACPRA] were heavily involved in the creation of the original concussion statute in 2011 (HB 858/SB 771) and ultimately supported the passage of that legislation. One of the key challenges was to craft a policy that could work in three very different environments: (1) school-run athletic programs; (2) county-run athletic programs; and (3) independent youth sports programs. MACo’s concerns with HB 29 focus on county-run programs and independent youth sports programs.

MACo’s first concern with HB 29 is that in most county-run athletic programs, coaches are either at-will employees or volunteers. If there is a coach that has blatantly disregarded the concussion policy, a county’s first inclination will be to simply remove or fire that individual. By requiring a specific system of penalties and a right of appeal to circuit court, HB 29 actually makes it harder for counties to remove a bad coach.

MACo’s second concern is that the provisions of HB 29 would be nearly impossible to enforce for independent youth sports programs. Youth sports programs range in sophistication from fully structured organizations down to several families on the same block who decided to form a league. There is no single oversight or enforcement mechanism for these programs. While these organizations may use county recreational facilities, counties do not and cannot actively monitor or police them.

The Maryland Physical Therapy Association and the Children’s National Health System testified in support of the bill. The Maryland Association for Justice (plaintiff attorneys) supported the bill with amendments that would remove a proposed legal immunity for coaches. The Maryland Association of Boards of Education opposed the bill for similar reasons as MACo.


Useful Links

HB 29

MACo HB 29 Testimony

Delegate Mark Chang Webpage

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of State and Local Concussion Legislation

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