5 Ways to Prevent Unfavorable Legislation
The implementation of the Oklahoma State Health Information Exchange (OKSHINE) has many mental health clinicians concerned for the privacy of their clients’ mental health records. Health Information Exchange (HIE) databases aim to allow patient healthcare records to be accessible by all medical providers and government entities who take part in the HIE. Being that mental health records are typically not released to third parties without clients’ written consent, mental health clinicians across the state are not only wondering how they can ethically and legally take part in the mandatory HIE, but also how the mandate became law in the first place.
Many therapists have taken to the streets and the internet over the last few weeks to protest the supposed requirement for mental health records to be part of the HIE. As clinicians are motivated to overturn the current HIE mandate, they may also be driven to prevent legislation that could have a negative impact on the mental health field from being passed in the first place. So, here are 5 ways to intercede on Oklahoma legislation.
Watch for Bills on the Oklahoma State Legislature Website
The Oklahoma Legislative session, which takes place annually from February through May, is the time of the year in which Oklahoma lawmakers introduce bills to the legislature. Oklahomans can stay up-to-date on bills and resolutions by visiting the Oklahoma State Legislature Bill Tracker and Current Status Report. If a bill is introduced that appears to have an impact on the counseling profession, there are multiple ways to voice opposition or support, including by contacting a lobbyist or legislator.
Contact Your Lobbyist
According to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission (OEC), lobbyists are individuals who are paid to represent organizations and advocate on their behalf to governmental and legislative entities. Lobbyists are also tasked with keeping organizations up-to-date with bills and other legislative changes that may affect their profession. Many professional organizations and private companies, such as the Oklahoma Counseling Association and Integris Medical Group, partner with lobbyists to advocate for favorable legislature and regulations. For example, according to the OEC, the Oklahoma Counseling Association lobbyist is registered to lobby to both the Oklahoma Legislature and the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority. To search for and view the contact information for your organization’s lobbyist to inquire about bills or regulatory updates that may affect the counseling profession, visit the Oklahoma Ethics Commission website here.
Call or Email Legislators
State Representatives and Senators have the power to vote in favor or against, bills, as well as voice concerns regarding bills to legislative committees on behalf of constituents. If there is a bill or regulation that appears to affect the counseling profession, using the Find My Legislator tool on the Oklahoma State Legislature website can be a helpful way to quickly connect with lawmakers and legislative staff to voice concerns and ask questions on bills.
Contact the Regulatory Organization
Along with creating laws and regulations, often bills will task a specific governmental organization with implementing the law. For example, Oklahoma State Law mandates that all individuals receiving mental health counseling in the state have the right to designate a Treatment Advocate. Though the state law created the right to a treatment advocate, it also tasked the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) as the entity that oversaw the creation of rules and regulations for appointing an advocate. Similarly, state law created the Oklahoma State Health Information Exchange (OKSHINE) and tasked the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority with creating the rules and regulations.
If a bill that may have an impact on the counseling profession has passed, clinicians can also advocate for change to the government entity that oversees the actual regulations. Many lobbyists can also lobby to government agencies.
Know Your Rights
As seen at the March 18th protest by Oklahoma Providers for Privacy at the State Capitol, Oklahomans can also voice their concerns about upcoming or implemented legislation by engaging in a peaceful protest. According to the Oklahoma division of the American Civil Liberties Union, Oklahomans have the right to protest on public property, including government buildings, and do not need a permit to march as long as the march does not obstruct traffic. For more information on Oklahomans’ right to protest and steps to take if it is believed those rights have been violated, visited the Oklahoma ACLU website here.