AT News
Archived Issue
Originally emailed 10 March 2003

Restraint Bill Fails in Utah

Senate Sponsor Kills Bill at Last Minute
“Holding Therapy” Becomes Issue in Governor’s Race

The major effort for this legislative season came to naught last Wednesday night as (literally) last-minute maneuvering by Utah Senate Republicans managed to kill a bill that would have outlawed the use of coercive restraint by psychotherapists in Utah.

It’s taken us here at
AT News a while to piece together what happened in the last minutes of Utah’s legislative session and figure out how to report how a bill could fail when it had managed to galvanize and unify ALL of the mental-health professional organizations in Utah, was supported by many of the state’s prominent child/patient-advocacy groups, and had gotten a near-unanimous vote in the Utah House.

AT News readers will remember from past reports that HB5, proposed by Rep. Mike Thompson (R-Orem), was a straightforward bill that would have prohibited any licensed psychologist, psychiatrist, social-worker, counselor, or family-therapist from using coercive restraint (that is, any restraint not for emergency safety) in therapy, or from instructing, supervising, or recommending the use of coercive restraint on a patient.

HB5 had the determined opposition of “Attachment (Holding) Therapists” in Utah, who managed to get their patrons in the state senate to introduce an alternative bill (SB137) that bizarrely redefined coercive restraint as: covering ALL of a patient’s face, restricting breathing by compressing a body, sitting or lying on a patient with
full body contact, or using elbows, knees, knuckles, or fists.

HB5 proponents lobbied hard in the last three weeks to get the bill to a vote of the full Senate, where a majority of the senators had indicated that they would pass it. Several deals were made that would have brought the bill to the senate floor, but they were all reneged on by the senate Republican leadership, and all turned out to be stalling tactics.

In parliamentary and political maneuvers that would take way too much space to recount here, senate Democrats (who are a tiny minority, but unanimously supportive of HB5) managed to catch the Republicans flat-footed and passed a motion to bring HB5 to the floor (and to the top of the calendar) with less than a half-hour remaining before the mandatory midnight adjournment. After another stalling tactic which ate up precious minutes, GOP leaders pressured HB5’s senate sponsor, Sen. Carlene Walker (R-Salt Lake), to table the bill, effectively killing it.

After weeks of trying to get the bill to the floor, why Sen. Walker would do such a thing is beyond comprehension. She essentially snatched defeat from the jaws of victory!

Rep. Thompson has vowed to bring back the issue next year.

Last weekend, the bill’s principal opponent, Sen. Parley Hellewell (R-Orem) kicked off a campaign for governor, making his opposition to banning restraint a centerpiece. He is literally gloating over how he killed HB5 and stood up for, in his words, “parental choice” in therapy. Given both how bullheadedly wrong he is about the issue of restraint and holding therapy, and how much support HB5 has outside the Senate — even the Mormon Church-owned
Deseret News editorially urged the senate to act favorably on banning “Holding Therapy” — we think that Sen. Hellewell is not on a winning course for the governor’s chair.

Meanwhile, the AT Therapists whom Hellewell, and others, have fought so hard to protect face revocation of their LCSW licenses. The decision of the regulatory board on some two dozen charges respecting their AT practices (and possibly more to come) should come some time this year, and will serve to protect some of Utah’s children until the next session of the legislature. A revocation decision will also serve to defuse AT’s champions and make passage of the anti-restraint bill next year much more likely.

There are also some public and professional education efforts being planned in Utah that hopefully will deter parents from choosing child abuse as “therapy” for their children.
Paraphrasing the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenneger, “We’ll be back!”

Caution: links may have aged since this AT News was first emailed.