Ward helps propose health bill

All school age children will receive a depression screening with their physicals, under legislation introduced this week with the support of state Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair.

The bill’s primary sponsor is Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland. Ward’s name is second on the bill.

“This is a good bill that Senator Regan and I believe will help many young people,” Ward stated in an email. “It’s ironic that we ask students to get a physical exam, check their vision and hearing but we never check their mental health.

“This bill has the ability to help students in our 500 school districts who may be dealing with mental health issues that can drastically affect their emotional, psychological and social well-being. We owe it to our young people and their families to pass this bill.”

The bill calls for all children to receive a depression screening while in sixth grade and each year after, in accordance with the schedule for mandated medical examinations.

If the parent or guardian chooses to share the results of the screening with the school and if the screening indicates the presence of thoughts or behaviors associated with a diagnosis of depression, then the school would be mandated to refer the child to the school’s student assistance program, the school psychologist for evaluation or for evaluation under the Individuals with Disabilities Act.

Regan and Ward’s proposal was referred to the Senate Education Committee on Monday.

In January, Ward was also the primary senator reintroducing two other bills awaiting action by the Senate Education Committee. Senate Bill 64 would provide for a waiver of community college, state-owned and state-related college tuition and other fees for children or surviving spouses of first responders killed on the job.

The bill applies to police officers, National Guard members, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, correction employees, state parole agents, county probation and parole officers, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs.

Senate Bill 65 would offer community college tuition credits to a person who is an active member of a volunteer fire company, volunteer ambulance service or volunteer rescue squad in good standing and their dependent children.

Ward’s memo attached to the pair of bills states a need to offer incentives especially to volunteer firefighters.

“Of Pennsylvania’s 2,462 fire companies, more than 90 percent are volunteer companies. … Sadly, however, the number of volunteer firefighters has decreased from 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 in 2018.”

In her memo Ward cites a 2001 study by the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Insti­tute that estimated that the service provided by our volunteers is valued at $6 billion annually. In today’s dollars the amount may be as high as $10 billion.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.

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