Scientology group supports Crow bill
By ROBERT FARLEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001
State Rep. Larry Crow, R-Palm Harbor, is sponsoring a bill in the Legislature that would require schools to get parents' written permission to give non-prescription medicine to schoolchildren, and would allow parents to opt their children out of some medical treatments.
So far, House Bill 357 has received widespread support, including from the Pinellas County Medical Society and an anti-psychiatry group established by the Church of Scientology. The anti-psychiatry group, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, considers the bill a victory for its legislative agenda.
Crow said CCHR urged him to take up its cause against psychoactive drugs such as Ritalin seven years ago and has worked with him through several revisions of the bill. When first introduced, the proposal was narrowly focused to require parents to consider possible risks in the use of such drugs and was opposed by the medical society and others.
The current broad-brush proposal now wins the support of some of the same groups that once opposed it. And while it no longer deals with psychoactive drugs for children, the use of which Scientology opposes, the CCHR lauds the bill as a historic legislative gain in Florida.
"For the first time in the history of this chapter, we pushed an anti-psychiatric labeling and drugging bill all the way to the floor of the House of Representatives," CCHR Florida President David "Cuch" Figueroa wrote in a newsletter to the group's members. "This was no easy task and took a concerted effort by all, along with our ally, Florida state Representative Larry Crow."
In a recent interview, Figueroa downplayed that language, saying the bill is not an "anti-psychiatric labeling and drugging bill," but is still "an excellent first step." To thank Crow for his efforts, CCHR Florida gave him a Human Rights award at its annual awards banquet.
Crow said the bill originated from conversations he had with members of CCHR. The group denounces the "labeling" of youth as mentally ill. It warns that the overprescription of Ritalin and other psychoactive drugs does more harm than good and might be linked to youth violence.
Crow said he began meeting with CCHR officials periodically shortly after taking office in 1994. The group originally came to him to talk about the issue of psychoactive drugs like Ritalin being prescribed to schoolchildren.
"In my heart, I believe those types of drugs are overprescribed," said Crow, a four-term legislator whose district includes parts of Pinellas Park, Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs.
In 1999, at CCHR's request, Crow penned a bill that would have required a detailed parental consent form for children taking psychoactive drugs at school. The bill died a quick death after strong opposition from drug companies, school boards, teachers, psychiatrists and psychologists.
Crow since has revised the bill several times, with the input of such groups as the Pinellas County Medical Society, and he reintroduced a new form of the bill last year. It no longer addressed psychoactive drugs at all. Instead, it focused on parental consent for their children's medical treatment in school.
Some parents are not as informed as they should be about their children's medical treatment, Crow said.
"A lot of people tend to take what doctors give them as rote truth," said Crow, an attorney.
Last year's bill made it out of committee and to the floor of the House, but it was not put onto the last legislative calendar for a full vote. But CCHR considered even that small step a victory.
The bill gives parents "the ability to opt out of things they'd rather not have their kids exposed to," Figueroa said.
Although CCHR's newsletter called the bill an "anti-psychiatric labeling and drugging bill," Figueroa conceded that it "is not as comprehensive as that."
Crow also said that description is inaccurate.
"No, no, no, it's not that at all," Crow said. "It's a parental rights bill."
Crow, who is Baptist, said he doesn't "buy into the balance of (Scientology's) philosophy." In particular, Crow said he does not oppose psychiatry.
"I respect psychiatry as a profession," Crow said. "It's a valuable medical science."
But Crow said he found some commonality with CCHR on the parental consent issue.
"There are strange bedfellows with legislation sometimes," Crow said. "This is a case where they have the right idea.
"The CCHR people, they have a pro-child agenda," Crow said. "A lot of what they do, I like."
The Pinellas County Medical Society strongly opposed the first version of Crow's bill, said executive director Caryn Caldwell.
This year's version bears "no resemblance to the original proposal," Caldwell said. "It's come a long way."
"It's way different from what CCHR wanted three or four years ago," Caldwell said. "They were attempting to make it more difficult for physicians to prescribe Ritalin. That's something we opposed."
When the original version of the bill failed, Caldwell said, Crow "worked with us to come to a compromise on that language." What emerged is a bill that would:
Require written parental permission for the administration of non-prescription medication.
Provide that a student is exempt from certain services under the school health services program if a parent requests such exemption in writing.
Limit transportation of a student to a medical treatment facility without parental consent.
The whole intent is for parents to be more involved in decisions about their children's medical treatment, Caldwell said.
A companion bill has been introduced in the state Senate by Sen. M. "Mandy" Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale. In a news release from her office last year, Dawson stated that CCHR also contacted her about the psychiatric drugging issue.
The House version of the bill sailed through the Education Innovation committee and the Council for Lifelong Learning with unanimous votes and is now headed to the floor. Crow believes the bill will pass this session.
A moderate Republican not known for making waves, Crow did make headlines recently when, as a private attorney, he filed incorporation papers to establish a company that now runs an online voyeur Web site showing nude women at a house in Tarpon Springs. He later said he would do no more work for the company.
Crow said he's interested in doing more research on the overprescription of psychoactive drugs such as Ritalin for children. Such drugs may have violent side effects, he said.
"I'm not saying Ritalin or any other of those types of drugs don't have their rightful place with thousands of children," he said. "But a lot of times attention deficit disorder is misdiagnosed."
Figueroa said overzealous school officials often misdiagnose students and label them as disabled or mentally ill.
"They are facilitating the labeling of millions of children in this country," he said.
Figueroa said the group hopes to educate parents to solicit the opinion of non-psychiatrists to seek other root causes for behavior such as nutrition or allergies.
CCHR is an international organization with 130 chapters worldwide and headquarters in Los Angeles.
The CCHR Florida chapter, based in Clearwater and founded 15 years ago, is primarily a volunteer organization with a handful of paid staff, all of whom are Scientologists, though not staff members of the Church of Scientology, Figueroa said.
Figueroa said his organization does not contribute to or campaign on behalf of any candidates, including Crow.
"Would I vote for him? Yeah," Figueroa said of Crow. "We're proud of him for what he's done for children in this area."
-- Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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