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California lawmakers sign off on controversial bill to expand support for school health centers

California Democrats criticized Republican senators for claiming student health centers could help minors access reproductive healthcare.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California’s lawmakers are nearing the final step to send off a potential law expanding funding and support for school health centers – which drew attacks from Senate Republicans this week — for the governor’s consideration. 

AB 1940 set off a tense debate for nearly an hour on the state Senate floor Wednesday — the last day for amendments on the desk as bills wind through the Legislature this month. It is designed to authorize student health centers at or near California schools, offering “age-appropriate, clinical health care services” from qualified health professionals, to help students who experience barriers accessing other forms of health care.

The bill authorizes health centers to provide primary medical care, behavioral health services or dental care services onsite or through telehealth. If approved, the state will provide technical and renovation support for health centers through various grants. The bill removes the requirement for the state’s Department of Education to act as a liaison for school-based health centers, instead writing that the program will be supported by the California Department of Public Health.

Senate Republicans claimed the bill could somehow allow schools to help minors access reproductive healthcare, pointing to language in the bill allowing students to access information on reproductive health services. 

Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, from Yucaipa, asked at what grade levels students can access information about all health services. She asked Senator Melissa Hurtado — a Democrat from Sanger, who carried the bill — who would pay for those services.

Hurtado said the bill does not change any local control wielded by each school district and locally elected school board, which will ultimately decide what services a student health center can provide and how they will be funded.

“I can assure you that no SBHCs have ever provided abortion services to a child,” she said. 

“I think there's a lot of fear in regards to this bill, that really doesn't change the way parents get notified. It doesn't change medical consent laws.”

Ochoa Bogh continued to attack the bill, citing Assembly Bill 1184 going into effect this year to amend the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act to make minors’ health decisions on “sensitive services” like reproductive care private from their policyholder parents.

“My concern with this particular bill would be that we’re now providing these services on campus without parents knowing, health wise or through their health plans, what is being provided to their children,” she said. 

Other Republicans also claimed the bill would lessen parents’ control over health services their children could access at school — like Senator Melissa Melendez from Lake Elsinore, who said “We should keep our noses out of medical (decisions)."

Senator Richard Pan from Sacramento, a physician, explains why student health centers are essential programs to help students who have barriers to regular health care in California. Screenshot via Courthouse News.

Senator Sydney Kamlager, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told the other senators to read the bill more closely, pointing out that it does not expand any state control above parents’ existing rights over childrens’ healthcare. She said some children might seek care without parents’ knowledge out of concern for their own safety — although she agreed with one of Melendez's statements, adding "The government should be staying out of our vaginas.”

Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, a Democrat from Stockton, said student health centers are an important resource for students to learn “help-seeking behaviors” to advocate for their own health and be able to get medical help when they need it. 

She criticized Republicans for turning the discussion of health centers for children into a reproductive services issue. 

“They want to politicize everything into being about reproductive rights, and it’s so insulting,” she said. “You want to demonize school nurses for talking about reproductive health, and it doesn't change anything about parental consent. It simply says we’re going to pay for poor kids … these are poor kids who need help from a school nurse.”

Hurtado reminded the Senate that some schools in California already operate health centers, and the bill is designed to expand support for those programs. 

With only eight "no" votes, AB 1940 passed and needs a final vote from the Assembly to head to the governor’s desk. All bills have until Aug. 31 to successfully get through both houses of the Legislature.

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