New laws should help improve health, well-being for Oklahoma children (Capitol Update)

This was a remarkably good year for legislation on behalf of children and youth, whether they are in the child welfare system, the juvenile justice system or at home and school. Below is a brief synopsis of several forward-looking bills passed this year that those who are interested in children’s issues will be glad to know about. 

House Bill 1085 by Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, and Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, permits the court, in the case of an emergency guardianship placement, to waive the requirement for a child abuse and neglect information system (CANIS) search if it cannot be obtained in a reasonable time and the court determines that it is in the minor’s best interest for the CANIS search to be waived.

HB 1103 by Rep. Mark Vancuren, R-Owasso, and Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, directs the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the State Education Department to create a set of guidelines and provide directions to schools in order to survey every public and private school student in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 with the Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment Survey every other year beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. 

HB 1568 by Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, and Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, requires the State Board of Education to mandate all schools, as part of any health education curriculum, include instruction in mental health, with an emphasis on the interrelation of physical and mental well-being, beginning with the 2022-2023 school year. It requires the Board to collaborate with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to adopt standards and approve age-appropriate curriculum options for students in grades kindergarten through twelve. It requires the standards and curriculum lists to be available on the website of the State Department of Education. The bill authorizes local school districts to enter into agreements with nonprofit entities and other community partners to assist with or to provide mental health education to students if the nonprofits and community partners are approved by the State Department of Education and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. It requires the board to promulgate necessary rules.

HB 1773 by Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, and Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, requires teacher candidates in early childhood, elementary, secondary, and special education to study the philosophy, overarching framework, components, and implementation of multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) designed to address the core academic and nonacademic needs of all students. It requires the program to provide for training that utilizes evidence-based assessment, intervention, and data-based decision-making procedures within a tiered system of support to identify students at risk for negative academic or nonacademic outcomes.

HB 1902 by Rep. Cynthia Roe, R-Lindsay, and Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, allows the caretaker of a child who is in a safety plan with the Department of Human Services to, if the parent of the child is unwilling or unavailable, authorize medical or dental treatment or examinations which are necessary for the wellbeing of the child and medical or forensic examinations which could reveal evidence of a crime committed against the child.

HB 2311 by Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa, and Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, requires juvenile detention facilities be the initial placement for all persons under 18 years of age. It prohibits a child from being placed in secure detention in an adult jail, adult lockup, adult detention facility or other adult facility except for any child who is at least 15 years of age who is charged with murder in the first degree. Such child may be detained in an adult facility only after a hearing in which the child is provided representation and the court makes a written finding that it is in the interest of justice for the child to be placed in an adult facility. The bill establishes factors for the court to consider in making such a decision. It requires a copy of the child’s most current mental health or suicide screening instrument approved by the Office of Juvenile Affairs be provided to the adult facility at the time of the child’s transfer and it requires the facilities to process requests for visits and allow approved visitors contact visits with the child within five business days of the request.

HB 2317 by Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa, and Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, requires the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth administer a grievance process to be utilized by children detained in an adult facility. It requires the process to be available to a child at any time prior to or after adjudication or conviction. It allows the grievances regarding placement, treatment, psychological services, social services, educational services, recreation, abuse, neglect or misconduct, cleanliness and hygiene, and routine problems with employees, contractors, or other incarcerated persons within the facility to be filed by the child or child’s guardian. The bill does not apply to children convicted as adults and placed with the Department of Corrections.

HB 2318 by Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa, and Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, modifies the standard for termination of parental rights, allowing termination of rights of an individual who has abused or neglected any child or failed to protect any child from heinous or shocking abuse. Currently the law provides for termination only if the termination of parental rights is of the child who was abused or neglected or a sibling of the child.

HB 2367 by Rep. Ty Burns, R-Morrison, and Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City, allows a child who is 16 or older to obtain housing if the child receives a certification of unaccompanied status from a youth services provider licensed by the Department of Human Services or the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Senate Bill 21 by Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, changes from permissive to mandatory, the language regarding adoption of a policy and districtwide awareness and training of school staff on suicide prevention policies. It permits districts, beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, to provide training to address suicide awareness and prevention to students in grades seven through twelve.

SB 89 by Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, and Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, creates the Health Education Act. The bill requires health education be taught in Oklahoma public schools and include, but not be limited to physical health, mental health, social and emotional health, and intellectual health. It requires, by the 2022-2023 school year, the State Department of Education to develop a micro-credential for teachers who are assigned the responsibility of teaching health education, to develop professional development programs designed to help teachers provide instruction in health education, and to incorporate the curriculum into existing coursework and instruction where appropriate. It requires school districts, by the 2023-2024 school year, to provide instruction addressing all health education subject matter standards. It requires the subject matter standards for health and physical education to include but not be limited to the domains of physical, emotional, social, and intellectual health. It requires health literacy that includes the ability to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions, as well as the importance of proper nutrition and exercise, mental health and wellness, substance abuse, coping skills for understanding and managing trauma, establishing and maintaining positive relationships, and responsible decision making.

SB 128 by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Dick Lowe, R-Amber, creates the Seizure-Safe Schools Act. The bill requires each school district with a student who has a seizure disorder, beginning Jan. 1, 2022, to have at least one employee who has training to administer or assist with self-administration of seizure medication and to recognize symptoms of seizures and take steps to respond. It provides procedures for parents to notify the school district of a child with a seizure disorder. 

Individually and cumulatively these new laws, when implemented, will improve the health and well-being of Oklahoma children.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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