Ceci Maher

State Senator

Ceci Maher

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Working Together For Our Communities

April 10, 2024
Today, State Senator Ceci Maher (D-Wilton), Senate Chair of the Committee on Children, led the State Senate’s passage of legislation that aims to fight hate speech, and relieve pressure and stress on families with children experiencing mental health crisis. These bills would respectively create a task force to study the impacts of hate speech on children, looking at programs across the state that work to end hate speech, and to create a working group to aid the development of a universal patient intake form through the Department of Public Health.

Senate Bill 327, “An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study The Effects Of Hate Speech and Bullying On Children,” would create a task force to analyze the effects of hate speech – forms of expression where a child or adult vilifies, humiliates or incites hatred upon a child based on their race, religion, skin color, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, body weight or body type or nationality. It would also review bullying, including settings where children are most likely to encounter hate speech (including both physical and online settings), look into the factors that contribute to hate speech or bullying, and recommendations for countering such speech.

“No child should face discrimination, but we know it happens all too often,” said Sen. Maher. “This study will play a vital role to look into the consequences of hate speech and discrimination, especially at young ages, and the lasting impacts it can have. It’s an important way for us to learn more about the best ways we can strike back against this rising problem.”

Programs confronting hate speech could include school-based, community-based or statewide programs for the prevention and reduction of hate speech and bullying and reducing its effects; public media campaigns; and statutory changes concerning hate speech and bullying in schools.

In public testimony, Christy Olezeski, associate professor in Yale’s Pediatric Gender Program, said that 25% of students nationwide experience discriminatory harassment which is tied to depression and anxiety, isolation from school activities and higher risks of self-harm and suicide, while students who use hate speech are more likely to become victims of substance abuse, drop out of school, or become abusive partners.

Several individuals who testified did so referencing their experiences or the experiences of their children who have faced hate speech in schools. Several who testified were residents of Westport, which has recently seen town-wide discussions of discriminatory behavior experienced by residents.

The task force would convene later in 2024 and complete its work by the beginning of 2025, reporting its findings to the General Assembly.

The bill passed the Committee on Children by a unanimous vote on March 12 and now heads to the House floor for further consideration.

Senate Bill 217, “An Act Concerning A Universal Patient Intake Form For Recipients Of Behavioral Health Services For Children,” would create a working group to make recommendations for an intake form including questions on patients’ medical and behavioral health histories, conditions and concerns and additional questions that can provide medical professionals with a comprehensive depiction of a patient’s condition and behavioral health history. By January 1, 2026, the Department of Public Health would create an intake form based on these recommendations.

“When a child is experiencing a mental health crisis, parents want to be by their side supporting them, not filling out paperwork,” said Sen. Maher. “This bill will start the process of creating an individual patient intake form that can streamline access to key health services, a positive step forward that will relieve pressure and stress for many families.”

In public testimony, the Office of the Child Advocate supported the bill’s effort to ease the process of obtaining mental health services for children, supporting caregivers who are overwhelmed with paperwork. They said working group will allow for a full conversation over the utility and implementation of this form and process.

Jaime Rodriguez, advocacy chair for the Connecticut Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, testified in support noting that as the state continues to see an increase in mental health needs for children and adolescents in both new development of diagnoses and escalations of mental health symptoms, the universal intake form would “ease the beginning stage of care” for providers, patients and families, increasing the chances of comprehensive care and expanding consistency of information to aid treatment.

The bill previously passed the Committee on Children by a 16-3 vote on March 5. It next heads to the House floor for further consideration.

Caption: Senator Maher introduces legislation on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon.

Contact: Joe O’Leary | 508-479-4969 | Joe.OLeary@cga.ct.gov