HELENA — School coaches could face more stringent rules when dealing with student athletes who suffer concussions under a new bill that is advancing in the Montana Legislature.
The Montana Senate on Friday endorsed, in a 33-17 initial vote, a plan that aims to better protect high school athletes from the dangers of concussions. It has been adopted in 43 other states, supporters said.
Senate Bill 112 would require more training to identify concussions, including in state law a long list of warning signs. It also would require schools to pull a player out of a game if the player exhibits symptoms of a concussion. The measure would ultimately need to clear the House and get past the governor's desk.
The measure sets up training for athletes, coaches and others involved in school sports. Supporters said the education will dramatically alter attitudes that prompt athletes to get back into the game after "getting their bell rung."
Supporters said it is a needed remedy for a problem that long went misunderstood and ignored.
"If you see someone that is concussed, get them out of the trenches so they don't have a serious brain injury that affects them for the rest of their lives," said Sen. Anders Blewett, a Great Falls Democrat carrying the bill. "This isn't some sneaky liability law. This is about sending that loud clear message to everyone involved."
But opponents, including former high school coaches, said the bill creates rules difficult for small schools to implement.
The measure goes too far, they argued, by requiring coaches to pull players they suspect could have a concussion, and requiring a medical professional to evaluate the athlete and sign a waiver before the student can re-enter play. Opponents said it is impractical to expect small schools to have medical professionals available on the sidelines to perform such an evaluation.
"We must not create an environment where we cannot incur any risk. We might as well stop doing it," said state Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad. "In this case I believe we would go too far."