Assembly passes diastat bill, but obstacles ahead

Amid strong opposition from school employee and nurse unions, the Assembly passed legislation Tuesday that would permit nonmedical school employees to provide emergency injections to students experiencing a seizure.

SB 161 now heads back to the Senate, where it has passed before but its fate remains uncertain.

The legislation by Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, has aroused strong emotions from both sides and split groups that are typically allied in many issues from education to health to taxation.

But Tuesday, political barriers were blurred when 16 Democrats in the Assembly voted against the bill, while 20 supported it along with the lion's share of Republicans. The final vote was 47-16.

The battle over diastat medication is far from over, however. The influential groups opposed to the bill - which include the California Teachers Association and the California Nurses Association - are expected to ramp up lobbying efforts to kill the bill when it arrives for concurrence in the upper house.

Assembly Democrats said Tuesday the legislation placed them in a difficult position.

"I want so much to stand with teachers, and classified employees, and nurses - and I will stand with them and fight until my dying day - that we need to invest more in the educational system," said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee.

"But at the end of the day, while it's not perfect, this bill is about saving the life of a child," she said.

The legislation has received support from numerous local educational agencies and health interest groups including Los Angeles Unified School District and Epilepsy California, which reports representing some 500,000 Californians who suffer epilepsy and seizure disorders.

SB 161 would authorize certificated and classified school employees to inject a valium-based jelly into the backside of an epileptic student who is suffering from a seizure when a nurse is not available. Huff first introduced the legislation in 2010, but it failed to pass a key fiscal committee.

Recalling debates that have endured in committees over the past year, lawmakers on Tuesday expressed skepticism about the liability protection and training provisions in the bill.

In response, Brownley said she helped add nine clauses to SB 161 that provide legal protections to those administering the medication.

Nevertheless, some Democrats said they could not support the measure for numerous reasons, one being that it reflects the poor spending priorities of the Legislature in failing to maintain nurses in every school.

"I think that we have to decide just on the principle that our children must have the best care possible at their time of need, and that is a transition for a nurse," said Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland.

"We have to have the ability in this chamber to say, that represents our value, and we're willing to pay for it,'" he said.

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