By Josh Letner
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
A House bill that would require high school students in Missouri to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, could be dead in the water, but a last-minute push by charitable organizations and maneuvering by the bill’s Senate sponsor could give the legislation a second chance.
House Bill 1337, introduced earlier this year by state Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, would require all high school students in Missouri to receive CPR training as a requirement for graduation.
The bill passed through the House and was referred to the Senate Education Committee, which conducted a hearing on April 25. It was during that hearing that the bill’s Senate sponsor, Dan Brown, R-Rolla, says its teeth were removed.
That news was disturbing for Brown and devastating to Sally Sharp, a second-grade teacher at Wheaton Elementary, who suffered a heart attack while eating lunch with her colleagues at the school. Sharp’s life was saved by two school nurses who used CPR and an automated external defibrillator to revive her.
“I was lying dead on the floor,” Sharp said in a Globe telephone interview Tuesday. “Thank goodness someone came to my rescue, and thank goodness she knew CPR.”
Joplin fire Chief Mitch Randles said CPR is a skill that all people should know regardless of age. He said the new standards for bystander CPR have eliminated one facet of CPR which made some people reluctant to learn the skill.
“The actual mouth-to-mouth contact is no longer needed for bystander CPR,” he said. “That was always one of the biggest worries for communicable diseases. People in the past would refuse to do CPR because of that, but it is no longer required.”
Since her recovery, Sharp has become a vocal advocate of CPR education in schools. She attended the Senate committee hearings on the bill and was disappointed to hear that it has been declawed.
“In the House, it was all about the money issue, but in the Senate, the debate was about the mandate,” she said.
Brown told the Globe by by phone that mandate is what will compel school districts to teach their students the life-saving skill.
“Some people in committee wanted to change ‘shall’ to ‘may,’ which pretty much guts the bill because most schools, unless they have a story like (Sally Sharp’s), are not going to get on board,” he said.
Brown said, in a last-ditch effort to save the bill, he has taken the uncommon step of drafting and distributing a Senate Committee Substitute that includes an amendment to the bill making special allowances for students with disabilities and parochial schools. He said the substitute would also return the word “shall” to the bill.
While it addresses the concerns of some committee members, Brown said the substitute effectively trumps all work done in committee and brings the bill to the Senate floor for debate.
Brown said his maneuver may be unpopular with some members of the Education Committee, but that the debate is worth having.
“A lot of times at this point, the bill would be dead,” he said. “If the bill comes out of committee and it’s been gutted, it doesn’t go anywhere, but I think this is an important enough issue that we need to have the discussion on the floor, and if I lose, I lose. I truly believe that in a kid’s lifetime this is something that they’ll use more than any other lifesaving technique. It pains me when there is an emergency situation and people run away from it rather than to it.”
It is not clear when the bill will reach the floor for debate because all progress in the Senate has been ground to a halt by a small group led by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who has vowed to hold up all legislation brought to the Senate floor until his concerns over other budgetary issues are addressed. Crowell has the backing of several other Republican senators who also have particular beefs with the proposed budget and state policies.
“I know how to tie up the floor, and I’ll do it,” Crowell warned his colleagues on Tuesday.
Crowell is stalling the Senate’s progress because he doesn’t like a proposed $2 million funding increase for Southeast Missouri State University, which is supported by House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville. That issue is still pending before House and Senate budget negotiators.
In an email distributed Monday, the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross urged residents to contact lawmakers in support of the bill. The message asked voters to help “protect the intent of the law” that it said would create 70,000 CPR-trained young adults across the state each year. The organizations pointed out that Iowa, Minnesota and Tennessee have already passed similar measures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
K. Nigel Holderby, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said her organization is not discouraged because the legislative process, win or lose, has brought attention to the importance of CPR training.