Senate panel OKs bill to bolster the number of mental health providers

As the need for mental health counselors increases, Florida lawmakers ponder new licenses.

Amid the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis, Florida could make it easier for mental health counselors from other states to work here, either in person or virtually.

But the change would only happen if several other states come on board.

The Senate Health Policy Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez‘s bill to authorize Florida to participate in a compact that would open the door for mental counselors to practice in the Sunshine State. It also would give mental health counselors licensed in Florida the green light to provide counseling outside of Florida.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services is the next committee slated to consider the measure (SB 358).

The legislation is being pursued at a time of rapid growth in the mental health counseling field. There are more than 15,000 licensed counselors in the state right now, and the number has been growing by an average of more than 1,000 licensees each year.

“This has come about because of the shortage of mental health counselors in our state,” Rodriguez told legislators. “As we have seen with COVID, we have had an exacerbation of need for this type of professional in our state.”

Georgia and Maryland are the only states to date that have signed on to the proposed compact. Backed by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, the bill would not take effect until at least 10 states have joined the compact.

In 2018, Florida nurses became eligible to get a multistate license under a nursing compact that was first authorized by state legislators two years earlier. That compact has 27 states that are participants.

Karla Sapp with the Florida Counselors Association testified in favor of the measure, saying it would help remove barriers to access to mental health services and do it “safely.”

“The counselors compact is the most viable and sustainable way of achieving this goal,” Sapp said.

Sapp added that the implementation of the compact would allow the mobility of both counselors and patients.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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