Legislative Update Offers In-Depth Look at Mental Health Laws, Including Suicide Prevention

House Bill 186 would establish a pilot program for screening Montana students for depression and suicide in a school-based setting. The bill would appropriate $1 million dollars to be distributed in the form of grants to community districts to establish screening and evaluation programs. The Bill would require a best-practices screening tool be employed and administered to students ages 11-17 to detect for depression and suicide. The bill has 14 co-sponsors from both sides of the political aisle. Mary Ann Dunwell, a democrat from House District 84 covering parts of Helena and East Helena and the bill’s primary sponsor, introduced HB 186 in the House Human Services Committee on January 22.

The bill is supported by the Montana Sheriff and Peace Officers association. Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin, a member of the Montana Suicide Mortality Review team, which published a report of findings and recommendations for addressing this problem in 2016, provided supportive testimony.

HB186 also received support from proponents who stressed the importance of early detection in preventing suicide while citing the devastating effects of suicide on families, communities, and Montana as a whole. Jennifer Preble with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention- Montana Chapter.

House Bill 186 passed the House Human Services Committee on January 25th. The bill awaits approval by the house appropriations committee.

Representative Mary Ann Dunwell also introduced House Bill 187 on January 22nd, another bill related to youth suicide prevention and evaluation. HB 187 would revise laws related to youth suicide prevention and establish evaluation criteria for youth suicide prevention grants. The bill would appropriate 1.6 million to be made available in the form of grants available to communities for the purpose of implementing evidenced-based suicide prevention programming.

The bill was co-sponsored by Representative Joel Krautter, a Republican of house district 35 which covers Richland County on the North Dakota Border.

Carly Sell, Program Director of the Chodair Grasslands Acute Care Unit emphasized the need for this programming and the importance of addressing youth suicide prevention.

Amy Grimalis with the Billings clinic testified on how her agency has effectively utilized suicide prevention funds allocated during the 2017 legislative session for adult suicide prevention. Grimalis described how similar programming could be implemented for youth suicide prevention.

The bill received further support from the Montana Primary Care association, Association of MT Public Health association, Peerview Health Center, the Montana Medical Association, and Montana Hospital Association.

Colleen Murphy, LCSW in Boulder elementary school shared impassioned testimony regarding her experience with suicide prevention as a school social worker.

HB187 was tabled in the House Human Services Committee on January 24th.

House Bill 199 would revise laws related to bullying and provide for misdemeanor and felony penalties for bullying. The bill was introduced to the House Judiciary Committee on January 22nd by Barry Usher, a Republican from House District 40, which covers rural Yellowstone County and all of Musselshell County.

No proponents testified in support of the bill at the committee hearing, but numerous opponents expressed their opposition. Mike Murphy spoke on behalf of the Montana Police Protective Association.

Zuri Moreno, Policy Associate with the ACLU of Montana also opposed this bill.

Following testimony, Representative Usher asked that no formal action be taken on house bill 199, as he expects amendments to be made before a vote can take place in the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 30 would allow certified behavioral health peer support services to qualify as medical assistance and therefore receive reimbursement under the Montana Medicaid program. Currently, Peer Support Services in the state are funded through two federal block grants. Jen Gross, a democrat from Senate District 25 covering part of Billings, introduced the bill to the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety committee on January 23rd.

Numerous proponents from across the state, including Earl Sutherland, a psychologist with Bighorn Valley Health Center, cited past successes utilizing Peer Support services.

Brandi King, of the Fort Belknap Community Council, read testimony in support of the bill from Tribal Health Director, Tami Rider.

SK Rossi, of ACLU Montana, closed proponent testimony.

Senate Bill 30 awaits a vote in the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety committee.