INDIANAPOLIS -- Less than two days after a major Indiana conservative leader asked hundreds of Hoosiers to oppose student mental health legislation, the Indiana House said the opponent’s concerns had been resolved to their satisfaction in another bill.

The issue arose after Eric Miller, founder of the conservative Advance America, spoke to 350 people on Tuesday at Hope Missionary Church in Bluffton. He asked them to notify their legislators that they were opposed to Senate Bill 266, a 40-plus-page piece of legislation that currently sets up mental health evaluations of youth from birth to age 22.

“We passed a compromise on this very issue that I think had nearly unanimous support, Republican, Democrat,” House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday.

Miller said the bill would give the state unprecedented control over all children in Indiana, beginning at birth.

Currently, the bill charges the State Commission on Improving the Status of Children with developing plans for a child’s social, emotional and behavioral health and coming up with services for a child and the child’s family. “The result would be to label potentially tens of thousands of children, beginning at birth, as not being normal and in need of social, emotional and mental health services and treatment,” Miller told the gathering.

Authored in the Senate, the bill addresses the growing concern about mental health treatment for students, brought about in light of recent school violence. In part, the bill establishes a grant program for schools to develop mental health and substance use disorder plans.

“The only way they’re going to be able to do that is go right into a hospital or mandate the hospitals to give them the data they need to enter that child into a government database,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate 29-20 and has been sent to the House Education Committee, but has not been set for a hearing.

But the issue has been resolved in a House bill, Bosma said.

As an example, under House Bill 1004 the Indiana State Department of Health would conduct an annual survey of youth risk behaviors for students in grades 9 to 12. Parents could opt out of the survey through written notification, as can a school.

The bill passed the House 83-15 and is to be heard Wednesday in front of the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development.

“I’m sure that our author will get together with the Senate author and settle on something that’s reasonable,” Bosma said, “and what passed the House was reasonable. It gave the schools the opportunity to opt out, it gave families the opportunity to opt out and it wasn’t burdensome, I didn’t think, on the schools for mental health professionals.”

Bosma said he had heard about the Bluffton meeting and that some state senators were discussing the public speech there.

Bosma said, “I just kept my mouth quiet and said we’ve already solved this.”

In the House, State Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, a retired schools superintendent, is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 266. He was one of the co-authors of House Bill 1004 which could face amendments in the Senate.

“This is the process and hopefully we can soften up and relieve some of those worries but not lose the fact that in this day and age, with the violence and the actions we’re seeing, counselors in schools need that kind of help. They’re not trained for those aberrant, violent behaviors that sometimes come into the schools and that we see early on where we can intervene and maybe assist the family and the child,” Cook said.

Advance America, a Christian-based tax-exempt organization based in Indianapolis, has spoken in support of families and pro-life agendas. It boasts of working relationships with over 2,500 churches in Indiana.

“We don’t ask churches to get political,” Miller told the gathering. “We ask churches to take a stand on biblical issues and give information to the people in their church. “My job is to give truth to people about things that are going on in their government.”

As a Christian lobbying group, Advance America distributed emails to churches and other supporters urging support in 2015 of the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying “Christian bakers, florists and photographers should not be forced by the government to participate in a homosexual wedding.”

© 2019 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.