New Law Gives AA Sponsors Same Protection As Doctors, Attorneys in Civil Court

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By Victoria Kim 04/08/16

 

The legislation aims to protect the privacy of those in recovery in the hopes that it will encourage others to seek treatment without fear of repercussion.

A new Washington state law gives AA sponsors the same protection as doctors and attorneys when it comes to testifying in civil court.

The bill, which passed the House with 94 votes and received unanimous support in the Senate, was initially vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee. But last month, the state legislature voted to override the governor’s veto, making SB 6498 into law.

The new law seeks to protect the confidential nature of the sponsor-addict relationship. It gives legal protection to individuals who are in treatment for alcohol or drug addiction and their program sponsors, meaning sponsors can no longer be called on to testify in future civil proceedings. This new rule does not apply to criminal proceedings, however.

Previously, Washington law gave legal protection to doctor-patient confidentiality, as well as attorneys, counselors, spouses and journalists. But now it no longer excludes the relationship that people in addiction recovery have with their sponsors.

A sponsor is defined in the bill as “an individual who acts as a sponsor providing guidance, emotional support, and counseling in an individualized manner to a person participating in an alcohol or drug addiction recovery fellowship.”

The bill’s proponents in the House and Senate recognize the importance of a sponsor’s role in someone’s recovery. “Reducing barriers to treatment is key to successful outcomes for people battling addiction,” said state Sen. Joe Fain, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, in a statement. “Strengthening proven support programs can help keep people in recovery with the tools they need to stay sober.”

According to AA literature, the role of a sponsor is to assure newcomers that “there is at least one person who understands the situation fully and cares.” A sponsor is there to provide a sympathetic ear and some guidance, to encourage members to stay on track and keep an open mind. In the scope of this relationship—which can range from very casual to the opposite extreme—the addict and sponsor are bound to discuss certain topics that can be very revealing about either person.

“This bill is critical to ensuring that those who are seeking treatment from addiction have the protection to speak openly with their peers and sponsors without the fear of repercussions,” said state Rep. Chris Hurst, who sponsored the bill in the House. “With this legislation we are protecting the privacy of those in recovery with the hopes that it will encourage others to seek treatment with the knowledge that what they say will be held in confidence.”

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