OLYMPIA -- Benton County's 8th Legislative District representatives split their votes last week on a bill to prevent health care providers from trying to convert gay youths.
Among the four who voted against House Bill 2451 bill was Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick. Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, voted in favor.
The bill passed the House 94-4 with an amendment exempting non-licensed religious counselors and protecting the speech rights of licensed counselors not practicing conversion therapy.
The bill would make it an act of unprofessional conduct to try to change the sexual orientation of a patient under 18, The Associated Press reported. That would include efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to reduce sexual or romantic attractions toward people of the same sex.
Klippert told the Herald he voted against the bill because it is a "strict violation" of state and federal First Amendment rights.
"If I, as a juvenile, go to a licensed therapist ... and say, 'I need your assistance, please help me,' that licensed therapist should be able to verbally communicate with me in any way, shape or form they choose to, based upon their education," he said. "And this bill says they cannot do that in certain instances."
Klippert said he was mildly surprised so many Republicans voted for the bill, but said Republican caucus members try not to tell other members what to do.
Haler told the Herald the bill shows that some conversion therapies employ "cruel and unusual" tactics, including electroshock therapy and ice water baths.
"That is reminiscent of a country different than America," he said. "There are other ways to approach that kind of conversion therapy."
Haler said he wasn't surprised by Republican support for the bill, adding that Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, gave compelling arguments for banning the therapy, which factored into Haler's vote for the bill.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where it's scheduled for a Thursday hearing in the Senate Committee on Health Care.
Similar restrictions are in place in California and New Jersey, the Associated Press reported.
w Tri-City Herald intern Matt Benoit is a Washington State University student: 509-947-9277, firstname.lastname@example.org