NASHVILLE — Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini today denounced as "dangerous" a bill signed into law Wednesday by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam that lets mental health counselors reject LGBT patients because of a professional's own "sincerely held principles."
She also charged that Tennessee is being run by "an extremist Republican majority drunk with power."facebook
Meanwhile, the American Counseling Association, which fought the legislation, now says on its website that "in light of recent legislative actions in Tennessee, ACA is currently weighing options" regarding its planned 2017 conference and expo in Nashville.
The ACA, which called the measure "Hate Bill 1840," did not state what those options were.
Washington Secretary of State Kym Wyman, a Republican, announced that due in part to the new Tennessee law neither she nor her staff will be attending this summer's National Association of Secretaries summer meeting in Nashville.
Wyman also cited responsibilities at home dealing with upcoming Washington state elections, The Associated Press reported.
When signing the legislation, which was opposed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups as well as the American Counselors Association, Haslam said he believed provisions "addressed concerns I had about clients not receiving care."
Haslam said the new law "clearly states" it won't apply to a counselor or therapist dealing with someone in "imminent danger" of harming him or herself. Secondly, the counselors and therapists must coordinate a referral to another professional who will provide counseling, Haslam said.
In her statement, Mancini charged that the new law came about because of "an extremist Republican majority drunk with power and failing to stand up for the fair and equal treatment of all the people of Tennessee."
She said Haslam "has done a dangerous disservice to the people of Tennessee by signing this bill into law. Professional counselors have said that it violates their code of ethics by allowing clients to be treated differently and that it could be harmful to children and young adults in rural areas who already have limited access to licensed therapists."
Washington Secretary of State Wynn said in a statement issued Wednesday that her decision to skip the Nashville conference is based on her state's primary elections coming up shortly after the event as well implementing a new corporation filing system.
But, she said, "also entering into my decision was today's action by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to sign a bill that allows mental health counselors to refuse treatment of patients based on the therapist's religious or personal beliefs," according to The Associated Press.
Haslam's signing the bill into law, however, is drawing praise from David Fowler, a former Republican state senator from Signal Mountain who now heads the Family Action Council of Tennessee, which advocates on socially conservative issues and backed the bill in the GOP-run General Assembly.
"We are delighted that Governor Haslam joined a large majority of our legislators in supporting conscience protections for professional counselors in this state by restoring to them the right they have had for decades to make referrals when they did not think they could, in good conscience, help a person achieve their therapeutic goals," Fowler said in a statement.
He said that because state law follows the ethics code for the American Counseling Association and the group in 2014 changed its rules to make such referrals unethical, "a new state law to restore that right became necessary."
The bill was one of several measures in Tennessee and other states that LGBT advocates say unfairly targeted them.
Another controversial measure did not pass in the state legislature this session. It would have required transgender students to use communal bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender on birth certificates.
Haslam had expressed reservations about that measure.