Bill to prohibit schools from giving names of contagious students to health department stalls on House floor

‘This bill has so many concerns,’ lawmaker says

Louisiana legislators convene in the House of Representatives chambers at the State Capitol during the 2020 special session. (Wes Muller/LA Illuminator. Wednesday Sept. 30, 2020)

Louisiana House lawmakers spent much of Monday afternoon debating a bill that would prohibit schools from reporting the names of  students who have infectious diseases to the Louisiana Department of Health. After that debate, a sizable majority of the House members decided to redirect the bill back to the House Health & Welfare Committee.

House Bill 82, introduced by Rep. Beryl Amedée, R-Houma, would stop those schools from sharing a student’s personally identifiable information relative to illness or disease with the state health department for any purpose without parental consent.

The law currently mandates that schools notify the health department immediately in the event of a possible infectious disease outbreak. In such a case, a school can disclose a student’s name or other identifiers without parental consent if LDH says it needs the information. The agency does not disclose students’ personal information to the public.

Under HB 82, however, the school could still notify LDH of a possible outbreak but, without parental consent, would not be permitted to disclose any personal information about the student suspected of carrying the disease. 

The school would be able to share aggregate information to the health agency as long as that information couldn’t be used to determine a student’s identity.

Such personal information would include  student’s name, date of birth, place of birth, etc. Louisiana law defines “identifiable information” as any information that can be used to trace an individual’s identity, including medical, educational, financial, or employment information. The definition also covers any “two or more pieces of information that separately or when linked together can be used to reasonably ascertain the identity of the person.” 

Only the student’s doctor would be allowed to share that information, Amedée said. She added that her bill is not specific to COVID-19 and would apply to any disease or health matter.

“They’re still getting the information, by and large,” she said. “It’s just there are a small number of parents in the state who want their students’ personally identifiable information to be protected so that it only goes from health care to the Department of Health, not from schools.”

Amedée said school employees and officials are not trained in identifying or diagnosing illnesses. And, she said, the procedure schools use to report personal data to the health department allows for students’ private information to fall into the hands of identity thieves.

“In many cases, people have had problems with identity theft concerning their health,” Amedée said. “This is very important in order for parents to have some say and protect their children’s information.”

Rep. Amedée’s bill drew many questions and concerns from lawmakers.

Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie asked Amedée how many data breaches have occurred in the 18 years the health department had been receiving such information from schools. ,  Hilferty said she’d assume “that there would have been some breaches to bring about this bill. So, we’ve had 18 years of history here. Have we had any instances of this happening?”

“I don’t have that information,” Amedée said.

Cyberattacks affecting electronic health information have happened in Louisiana, but most of them have been ransomware and not related to identity theft. In September, a hacker launched a ransomware attack on a Mayo Clinic provider in Baton Rouge. Also, a massive ransomware attack in 2019 affected multiple state agencies, including the health department . However, there are no known instances of  identity theft resulting from schools communicating with the health agency . 

Amedée said she introduced the bill because some parents told her they worried data breaches could put their child’s personal information at risk.

Rep. Marcus Bryant, D-New Iberia, suggested the bill could prevent LDH from acting quickly to contain an outbreak if only doctors could share identifiable information.  Many students, he said, rely on school nurses for healthcare. 

“A lot of kids don’t go to doctors, and a lot of doctors’ offices don’t turn around and send that information in a timely fashion,” Bryant said.

In response to questions from Under questioning by Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, Amedée admitted that she did not consult with LDH state health officials regarding her bill. This prompted further concerns from Rep. Joseph Stagni, R-Kenner.

Stagni said LDH officials attended the Committee on Education meeting when the bill was first proposed and even submitted a card requesting to testify, but the committee never called on them to testify. 

“This bill has so many concerns,” Stagni said. “I can’t believe the committee did not bring them to the table and ask them some of this information,.” he said.

Stagni said the bill would upend LDH’s long-held reporting procedures for a infectious disease outbreaks “simply because you think there may be some problem.”

“To me this looks like a solution looking for a problem,” Stagni said.

After a motion from Following the debate, Rep. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport, the House voted 59-33 to recommit Amedée’s bill to the House Health and Welfare Committee. moved to recommit the bill to the Health and Welfare Committee. The House passed that motion in a 59-33 vote.