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With the suicide lifeline bill defeated, funding for service will rest on budget negotiations

Maya Shimizu Harris with WyoFile, via the Wyoming News Exchange

This year’s 988 lifeline funding bill failed to meet a procedural deadline. But a budget amendment lawmakers adopted last week could keep funding alive through the session.
This year’s 988 suicide lifeline funding bill is moot. But funding for the lifeline could still survive the session. 
After making it through two votes in the House, this year’s 988 suicide lifeline funding bill, sponsored by Rep. Jon Conrad (R-Mountain View), died Friday when the House ran out of time to consider the legislation. 
The bill was introduced with a 42-19 vote in the first week of the session, gaining the approval of three lawmakers — Reps. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett), Dalton Banks (R-Cowley) and Daniel Singh (R-Cheyenne) — who had voted against the same legislation last year. 
As it was originally drafted, the legislation proposed to put $40 million in a trust that lawmakers established last year to provide long-term funding for Wyoming’s suicide lifeline, which transitioned to a round-the-clock 988 hotline in 2022. Earnings on the fund would be used to pay for the lifeline over the long haul. 
Data showed a dramatic increase in the hotline’s use last year in Wyoming, which has historically had one of the nation’s highest suicide rates. Calls increased 62% in the year after Wyoming transitioned to 988, WyoFile previously reported. More than 1,000 of those calls came from veterans. In December, Wyoming’s 988 service routed more than 550 calls, according to data from the Wyoming Department of Health.
Conrad, the 988 funding bill’s sponsor, described the legislation as being “pro-life.” 
“The loss of life is preventable, and being pro-life means supporting life after birth,” he told House lawmakers before they voted to introduce the bill. 
But the bill’s fate went downhill from there.
The House Appropriations Committee unanimously moved the legislation along last week, but only after cutting the allocation down to $10 million. 
Then the bill ended up near the bottom of the general file list for consideration in what’s called the committee of the whole. (Neiman, the House majority floor leader, creates the order of that list.) The bill ran out of time for consideration and died by default. 
But even with that bill gone, more funding for the 988 lifeline isn’t out of the question. 
Lawmakers in the House voted last week to adopt a budget amendment that would backfill whatever was stripped out of the 988 bill. Rep. Cyrus Western (R-Big Horn), the amendment’s sponsor, called the proposal an “insurance policy.” 
No one in the Senate brought a similar amendment, which means that this discrepancy in the House and Senate versions of the bill will need to be negotiated in the Joint Conference Committee — a group that’s made up of appointed lawmakers from each chamber. The House and Senate have yet to appoint lawmakers to the committee but will likely do so tomorrow. 
The panel can either adopt, delete or agree to a middle ground on the 988 funding proposal.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.
This story was posted on February 26, 2024.  

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