Connecticut’s House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill that aims to offer more mental health services, provide protections for libraries and require schools to offer play-based learning for young kids.
Senate Bill 2 is the Senate Democrats’ priority bill and one of the biggest bills to come out of the Committee on Children this session. Much of the proposal centers on helping kids access more mental health care, a continuation of work from last session.
“This is something that has been really important to the children’s committee throughout the last five years,” said Children’s Committee co-chair Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire.
The bill passed unanimously through both the House and Senate and next heads to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk for his signature.
The bill would create the Office of the Behavioral Health Advocate to help Connecticut residents access mental health care. It also aims to make it easier for social workers and other mental health professionals to get licensed and requires that employers allow service workers to use paid sick leave toward mental health wellness days.
Service workers who are the parent or guardian of a child who is the victim of family violence or a sexual assault would also be eligible for paid sick leave under the bill. It would require the study of grief counseling and bereavement services statewide.
“Coming out of the pandemic, children have experienced so much more grief than they have before,” Linehan explained Monday evening.
Since the pandemic, more children have reported mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and eating disorders.
The bill also offers state grants to libraries that adhere to collection policies set by its local governing board and offers a clear process for residents to challenge books offered in the library.
Many of the questions Monday were about the library portions of the bill. Earlier versions of the bill, which was amended in the Senate, included the creation of sanctuary public libraries, or libraries that lend books that have been banned in other contexts and don’t prohibit the availability of books or other library materials.
That was amended after lawmakers talked with librarians about the best ways to protect them from book bans. Book bans have been on the rise nationally, and public libraries in some states have faced weakened legal protections. Many of the challenged materials are about issues related to race or LGBTQ issues.
“I know that was a problem in committee with regard to sanctuary libraries,” said Children’s Committee ranking member Rep. Anne Dauphinais, R-Killingly. She confirmed with Linehan that the bill gives local library boards control over policies regarding book challenges.
Senate Bill 2 would also require that schools offer play-based learning to kindergarteners and preschoolers. Play-based learning is a concept that uses playing to promote learning, like using blocks to learn mathematical skills or playing trivia games to learn history.
It does not mean recess time or physical education, according to a bill analysis.
The bill would also require that districts allow teachers to use play-based learning during instructional time for first through fifth graders.
Senate Bill 2 also includes measures to enroll more children in HUSKY and requirements that certain information including family service plans and early intervention services in Spanish.