In an effort to improve patient care and ensure better consumer protection, the House Professional Licensure Committee, led by Rep. Julie Harhart (R-Lehigh/Northampton), held two public hearings on updates to the state's Speech-Language and Hearing Act regarding both audiologists and speech pathologists.

"The existing state law overseeing the professions of audiology and speech pathology is nearly 30 years old, and many changes have taken place in these fields in terms of education and delivery of services," said Harhart.

"Therefore, these two proposals are seeking to update the law to ensure better patient care."

Senate Bill 137 focuses on the licensing and scope of practice of audiologists. The bill aims to make changes to the structure of the State Board of examiners in Speech-Language and Hearing which oversees the profession, while also updating requirements of licensure to reflect national standards and clarify that licensed professionals have the appropriate credentials and education to provide their services properly.

House Bill 1561 addresses licensing updates and defines the scope of practice of speech-pathologists. This legislation would also create a separate license for school-based speech-based speech-language pathologists, who are not currently required to be licensed.

Harhart noted that under current law, the practice of audiology and speech pathology is not defined, nor are their scopes of practice described. This can lead to some ambiguity that Senate Bill 137 and House Bill 1561 seek to rectify.

Furthermore, the Speech-Language and Hearing act exempts speech pathologists working in schools from having to obtain a license. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) requires speech-language pathologists to obtain PDE certification in speech-language pathology, but does not require they also be licensed.

Under house Bill 1561, persons currently providing speech language pathology services in the schools, who have a certificate from PDE would not be required to obtain the new school-based license under the bill, thereby ensuring no one loses a job who is already employed by the schools.

"These are professions and an area of consumer care that we clearly need to address as it pertains to licensing requirements," said Harhart.

"I found both hearings, which included testimony by professionals practicing in the industries and those teaching coursework in the fields, to be helpful in highlighting the pros and cons of the proposals and their impact on speech pathologists and audiologist as well as their patients.

"This is an issue that will require further examination and discussion by the committee as we move forward."

Both bills are awaiting an affirmative committee vote before being sent to the full House for consideration.