For the second time in as many years, Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature have blocked a rule that would have banned the harmful practice of so-called conversion therapy in the state, saying the board issuing the rule had overstepped its authority.
The Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling, and Social Work Examining Board, which creates the code of ethics for certificate holders and licensees in Wisconsin, issued a rule in 2020 banning conversion therapy, but, as reported by the Wisconsin Examiner, the rule was subsequently blocked by Republicans in the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules. It went back into effect last year on December 1 when a bill dealing with the issue was not formally passed during the legislative session. On Thursday, the committee voted 6-4 along party lines to again block the rule.
The Republican chair of the rules committee, Rep. Adam Neylon of Pewaukee, steered clear of supporting conversion therapy, instead saying the board had usurped the authority of the legislative branch. However, Republicans last year sought the passage of a bill suspending the rule.
"We're not here specifically to discuss the merits of any conversion therapy or any other type of therapy," Neylon said prior to testimony on the matter. "We believe that is a question for the Legislature as it is public policy and deals with speech issues," Neylon said prior to testimony, adding the "proper venue" for the issue "would be through the legislative process."
Democrats like Sen. Kelda Roys of Madison strongly disagreed with Neylon's position.
"It's about protecting consumers in Wisconsin, protecting vulnerable teens and families from predatory unprofessional therapists," Kelda said during yesterday's hearing. "That's why this rule was so uncontroversial when it was passed because people who want to help others with mental health struggles understand that conversion therapy is harmful. It's abusive."
The committee heard from both supporters and opponents of the rule.
"A state agency comprised of unelected officials should not have the authority to threaten these professionals with loss of license and potentially loss of livelihood for using sound professional judgments as well as exercising their first amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience and religion," Julaine Appling, executive director of the Wisconsin Family Council, told the committee.
Marc Herstand, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, during testimony yesterday described conversion therapy as "child abuse" and "torture," adding it was "fake therapy" and "unprofessional conduct" that posed a "major mental health and suicidal risk" for patients forced to endure the practice.
While a statewide prohibition against conversion therapy appears dead for now, the practice has been banned locally in Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, Cudahy, Shorewood, Racine, Sheboygan, Superior, Glendale, Appleton, West Allis, Kenosha, and Sun Prairie.