By Carrie Haderlie
Wyoming Tribune Eagle 

988 hotline funding cut to $10M


February 22, 2024

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — The House Appropriations Committee slashed a request for $40 million to fund a 988 hotline trust fund by three-quarters Tuesday morning.

“I’m disappointed,” Rep. Jon Conrad, R-Mountain View, said after the meeting. “We worked hard on this.”

Conrad was one of several lawmakers listed as co-sponsors of House Bill 186, “988 hotline-appropriation,” which included the request for $40 million in general fund money for the 988 System Trust Fund Account. Instead, House Appropriations voted to allocate $10 million this year to the fund.

“The $10 million is appropriate,” Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, said during the committee meeting. “We have set up several trust funds over the last few years in the Legislature, and, in my memory, we haven’t fully funded any of them in year one or year two.”

HB 186 will head back to the House floor for further debate. Several lawmakers asked in committee why industry has not supported the 988 hotline effort with private donations.

“What I don’t see, interestingly, is industry and civic organizations saying, if you want to take care of your neighbor, why aren’t we matching funds to help raise this account higher?” committee Chairman Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, said. “What I see everyone saying is, ‘Come on state, come up with (the money) to take care of our problem.’”

Pat Joyce, assistant director of the Wyoming Mining Association, noted that her industry is one of the “larger contributors” to the state’s budget, adding that they are very supportive of 988 efforts.

“We have not been immune to this within our members, so we support this,” Joyce said. “It is going to take all of us.”

Lindsay Simineo with the Wyoming Counseling Association pointed out that, rather than creating a phone tax, Wyoming chose to set up the trust fund.

“The federal government, when they enacted 988 and it was presented to us, really wanted … to ask for a fee on every phone line,” Simineo said. In discussions with the Legislature in 2022, stakeholders settled on creating the trust fund, with the idea of allocating $40 million.

“The (idea) was, can the government then float this, per se, with the trust instead of constantly asking for Wyoming residents to be taxed,” she explained.

Another 988 funding mechanism

Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, presented another idea for 988 hotline funding to the Appropriations Committee that was favorably received.

House Bill 144, “Suicide awareness and prevention license plate,” would bring back historic license plates for a $150 fee, and a $100 renewal fee each year after that, with the proceeds going to the 988 trust fund.

The committee discussed having a “988” moniker or suicide prevention awareness logo on the plates, but decided against including any language to that effect in the bill. In fact, Walters said he supported the idea of issuing plates that replicate historical Wyoming license plates, without any insignia on them, noting they were a fundraising mechanism for the hotline.

“The uniqueness becomes the vanity side, the unique (historical) design without a symbol,” Walters said.

Not only would that be easier for the Wyoming Department of Transportation to implement, it would also model the program after successful similar programs in Colorado, according to Jerimiah Rieman, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association.

“(Colorado’s) data led me to believe that if we went toward a historic plate, we could drive sales,” Rieman said. “Quite frankly, I am perfectly fine stripping the 988 suicide prevention from the plate and just directing the department to pick a historic plate.”

That bill passed unanimously out of committee.

Finally, the committee also sent House Bill 169, “Mental health and vulnerable adult task force,” back to the floor with a unanimous favorable vote.

According to Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, who sits on the task force, the group is actively engaged in policy direction and would like to continue its work for the next biennium.

“It takes a long time to get policy developed,” Larsen said.

This story was published on February 21, 2024.


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