By Morgan Hughes
Casper Star-Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Lawmaker revives suicide prevention training bill


March 4, 2021

CASPER — Freshman Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, is reviving a bill that requires school districts to provide suicide prevention training to students after a previous bill was defeated in February’s brief virtual session.

“I am reintroducing this bill again because since the last debate another Wyoming life has been lost to suicide — the life of a teen,” Rodriguez-Williams, who declined to get into details about the death, said via email. “This is another opportunity for the legislature to make a decision that can help save lives.”

House Bill 175 is short, just one paragraph. And by design, it’s almost identical to its predecessor, House Bill 62.

Both pieces of legislation require that school districts provide suicide prevention training to students — something statue already requires of faculty.

Districts are already required to train teachers and staff annually under the Jason Flatt Act, which the state adopted in 2014. But that law does not require students be given that same suicide prevention training.

Many districts are already providing some form of student training, but it’s not uniform or mandatory.

Cody High School psychologist Daniel Cossaboon told a legislative committee in December that teaching students how to intervene if a friend is suicidal is critical to saving more lives.

He said research shows most teenagers are going to tell a friend, not an adult, if they’re considering suicide. Students said the same thing.

When the Legislature’s Joint Education committee initially moved that now-defeated bill in December, they did so at the request of Wyoming high schoolers who had lost friends and family to suicide. Students at the time told lawmakers they might have been able to intervene if they’d had the proper training to do so. Advocates of the bill have also pointed to the state’s record-high suicide rate as a reason to move the bill forward.

Wyoming has the second-highest suicide rate in the U.S., and teen suicide in the state has seen a monumental rise. The rate of teenagers who have died by suicide in Wyoming has gone up 40% in the last three years, according to a report from the United Health Foundation.

But when the bill moved to a virtual House floor in February, lawmakers defeated the proposal 34-26 on differing grounds.

Some worried it imposed an additional burden on teachers. Others raised concerns about cost. One legislator said it was the Christian church’s duty to reverse the teen suicide rate.

Current statute requires K-12 faculty receive four hours of suicide prevention training over four years.

The proposal lawmakers defeated in February suggested students receive one hour of training a year.

“The people wanted another chance to advocate for this life-saving bill,” Rodriguez-Williams wrote in an email. “More importantly, youth in my community wanted another opportunity to speak to the legislature in support of this bill.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee, where it will get another hearing.

If the committee supports the bill, the representative said she hopes her fellow lawmakers will reconsider their previous stance.

“My hope is that my colleagues will take the time to research Wyoming data and listen to their constituents. ... Many families have been affected by suicide,” she wrote. “Offering students evidence-based suicide prevention programs is not time consuming. There is no fiscal note attached to the bill because there is no cost associated to it.”


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