Ohio bill would fix errors in sports safety law

ANN SANNER Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- State lawmakers moved Wednesday to correct a new state law that inadvertently allows coaches and referees in youth sports leagues to be criminally prosecuted for violating rules regarding players' head injuries.

The House voted unanimously Wednesday to fix the error in the law. The Senate passed an earlier version of the bill, though it will likely sign off on the legislation.

The new law requires coaches, volunteers and officials in youth sports organizations to have players who show concussion-like symptoms sit out games or practices until they've been checked and cleared in writing by a doctor or licensed health care provider. Athletes can't return to play on the same day they are removed.

Coaches are required to know more about concussions and how to spot warning signs. Parents also must review information sheets about brain injuries.

Supporters say the new rules are intended to promote safety, not impose punishments. A bill-writing error left open the door for coaches to face charges.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health says the state isn't aware of any criminal charges filed for noncompliance of the law since it took effect on April 26.

The way the law is currently written, parents who volunteer at sporting events could be fined or face jail time if they haven't received the proper concussion training, said state Rep. Jay Hottinger, a Newark Republican.

Hottinger said it wasn't the law's intent to "potentially turn volunteers and coaches and referees and officials into criminals."

The measure that passed Wednesday would remove the criminal liability. The correcting bill also contains an emergency clause, so it would take effect as soon as Republican Gov. John Kasich signs it.

Hottinger stressed the importance of the bill's swift passage, so it could preclude any possible legal problems.

As of last year, at least 43 states and the District of Columbus had passed laws on concussions in youth or high school sports, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Under the law, Ohio's health department has to provide information about identifying and dealing with concussions. The agency's website includes links to free training to help coaches and referees recognize symptoms such as clumsy movements, forgetfulness, loss of consciousness, headaches or balance problems.

The legislation was spurred by evidence about the dangers of head injuries.

Doctors and health care groups that supported the measure say young athletes are most vulnerable to damaging head injuries because their brains are still developing.

Emergency room visits for sports-related traumatic brain injuries for young athletes more than doubled between 2002 and 2010, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The law applies to youth sports organizations and schools that are in and out of the Ohio High School Athletic Association. The OHSAA adopted return-to-play rules prior to the law's passage and those rules remain in place since they mirror what is in the law.

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Online:

http://www.healthyohioprogram.org/concussion