The Wyoming State House added an amendment to legislation on Wednesday morning that would allow private individuals and nonprofits to help fund state-run 988 suicide call centers in Wyoming.
“In Wyoming, you pay for what you get for,” state Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, said. “You should pay for the service that you receive, and government shouldn’t pay it for you. We’re tying that self-sufficient and reliance concept into how we operate and run our business and run the business as the state.”
The amendment, which passed, would re-establish the trust fund originally proposed in the initial legislation to support the two call centers. Last week, the trust fund and $46 million that was to be dedicated toward starting the fund was slashed from the bill.
With a 38-23 vote, House Bill 65, “988 Suicide Prevention” passed through the House with the amendment attached.
When Rep. Bill Allemand, R-Midwest, cast his dissenting vote, he said, “a hurtful no” when his name was called for roll. Allemand was chastised by House leadership for being out of order. Earlier in the discussion, he spoke against the bill.
“Once again, we keep playing around with something we shouldn’t,” he said.
Rep. Tony Locke, R-Casper, was more measured in his opposition, saying the call centers are not the right solution for preventing suicide in Wyoming, a state with the highest per-capita rate of suicide deaths in the nation.
People experiencing mental health crises in Wyoming, or any state, can receive help by dialing 988 to reach a suicide and crisis lifeline.
There are two suicide prevention call centers in Wyoming, located in Casper and Greybull, dedicated to providing suicide and crisis intervention. These 24/7 call centers each receive about 225 to 450 calls a month.
The two call centers were first established in 2020 with limited hours on a budget of $250,000.
In early July, they were upgraded to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The upgrades were made available based on a two-year allocation of $2.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act money and $400,000 from the state’s general fund.
What It Does
The amendment, which passed with a vote of 33-26, would allow for the creation of the trust fund with a $0 balance. Nonprofits and other private individuals could donate funds as they see fit. Excess revenues could also be allowed to go into the trust.
State Treasurer Curt Meier said the public can donate to most of the state’s trusts, but all were established with at least a small amount of initial funding.
There are also similarities between the proposed trust fund to the WYldlife Fund, a nonprofit that serves as the private funding arm for Wyoming Game and Fish.
Andi Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, has been one of the biggest proponents of the bill. She said she sees the passage of the amendment as a win that allows the call centers to be positioned for guaranteed funding in the future.
“It will be helpful over the next few years as we work together with the Legislature to find a few revenue streams,” she said. “I do think it’s a win as a first step.”
Less desirable was the amendment added to the bill last week, that stripped the bill of its funding and desired trust fund.
“Obviously we would’ve liked the funded trust fund to get it started in a good place,” Summerville said.
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, passed that measure, and brought the amendment that passed on Wednesday with Nicholas. Brown said he worked with Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, to come to the compromise.
“One thing that I’ve learned in this body is that you don’t let ‘perfect’ and ‘the way I want things’ to be the enemy of good enough,” Brown said. “Let’s go ahead and show some good faith effort and establish the trust fund.”
Brown said it costs roughly $700,000 a year to run the two facilities.
With last week’s change to HB 65, the amendment reverted the call center’s funding back to the state’s regular budget cycle of requesting money every two years.
The call centers only have guaranteed funding for the next two years. The Wyoming Department of Health will be responsible for putting forth a budget request proposal for the call centers next fall for the upcoming biennium that begins in 2025. The state could put money in the trust fund in the future.
Brown said he expects the total funding for the call centers to increase to a $1.5-$2 million biennial budget request, which he said he would support.
“This is a good compromise,” Brown said.
House Bill 65 will next move on to the Senate for consideration. Summerville said she expects conversations to resume about putting some money in the trust.