$40M For Wyoming 988 Suicide Hotline Barely Alive With $900 Million Gap To Fill

A bill that would have put $40 million into a trust for Wyoming’s 988 suicide centers failed last week. Meanwhile, a $40 million budget amendment for the same purpose is still alive, but barely as the House and Senate look to bridge a $900 million budget gap.

LW
Leo Wolfson

February 26, 20245 min read

State Rep. Jon Conrad, R-Mountain View.
State Rep. Jon Conrad, R-Mountain View. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

A bill that would have put $10 million in a trust for Wyoming’s 24/7 988 suicide hotline call centers failed to meet the deadline to advance in the state House on Friday, but a budget amendment is still alive to put $40 million into the trust.

State Rep. Jon Conrad, R-Mountain View, has been one of the leading proponents for funding the call centers. He equates this effort to being pro-life on abortion.

“Let’s talk about people, being pro-life means not only before, but after (birth),” he said.

His bill had already been slashed by the House Appropriations Committee last week, reducing the funding from $40 million to $10 million.

But the same full $40 million for the 988 trust fund is still alive because of an amendment also made last week to the House’s version of the state’s biennial budget backfills the full $40 million in the event that Conrad’s House Bill 186 died or was reduced.

Conrad is not particularly optimistic the amendment will survive as there is a roughly $900 million difference between the proposed budgets of the House and Senate.

“So, we’re going to be looking for ways to cut, and I’m worried that the $40 million would be an easy cut,” he said.

The Senate’s version of the budget doesn’t have the $40 million for the call centers. Both chambers will square away the differences between their budgets in a joint conference committee this week.

What Happened?

HB 186 wasn’t voted down in the House, it didn’t make the deadline for first reading, which was the end of day Friday.

The bill was originally scheduled to be addressed Friday, but Majority Floor Leader Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, changed the order of bills to be discussed so that HB 186 was second to last on the list. Neiman did not immediately respond to a Cowboy State Daily request about why he made the change.

Also failing to make the deadline to advance Friday was a bill to fund suicide awareness and prevention efforts through the creation a new state license plate, legislation continuing the state’s Mental Health and Vulnerable Adults Task Force and another bill brought by Conrad renaming the state’s deaf, dumb and blind account.

His proposal was the rename it the deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired account.

Another factor that led to these bills not making the deadline Friday were some particularly lengthy discussions on property tax relief legislation.

“The product of that (long discussion) is the loss of good bills,” Conrad said. “I’m personally disappointed.”

Mentality

Some who support funding the 988 call centers accuse those who don’t of prioritizing cutting government spending over the well-being and safety of Wyoming residents.

“The Freedom Caucus insists they’re in office to help average folks, yet actively fought against the establishment of the hotline because, they argued, it was government spending, and it wouldn’t be effective,” said Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, in a press release.

Rep. Tomi Strock, R-Douglas, a member of the socially conservative Freedom Caucus, said many like her who oppose the funding have a more nuanced perspective than Western describes.

Strock said government shouldn’t play a role in suicide prevention and instead believes the matter should be addressed through more local solutions and spiritual centers.

“Money will not solve the crisis,” she said. “You can’t fix pain, you can’t fix depression (with money). This might sound harsh, but the people that are actually going to do it usually aren’t the ones that are calling.”

Wyoming has historically had one of the highest suicide rates per capita in the nation, but last year improved to the third worst rate. This improvement happened since the call centers opened, and they had a large increase in call volume last year.

Despite these stats, Conrad said more improvements need to be made for the long term, mentioning how two people in Lyman recently died by suicide.

“It’s sad, it affects every community,” Conrad said. “We can talk about funding a program or building a building. Look at our people, our people are dying.”

Conrad said a $40 million trust investment would roughly generate enough interest to cover the $1.2 million annual cost it takes to run the call centers. They are now funded through 2025, but no more money is guaranteed after that juncture.

“We support 911, why wouldn’t we support 988?” he questioned.

Strock said no matter what data is presented to her, she won’t change her mind about the call centers.

“You can tweak numbers however you want to get a desired answer,” she said.

What Other Bills Died?

Also failing to make Friday’s deadline in the House was a bill establishing length of residency requirements for Wyoming voters, a hallmark agenda for Secretary of State Chuck Gray.

Another elections-related bill that died was legislation authorizing county clerks to seek to have frivolous filings rejected or notated as frivolous.

In the Senate, four property tax bills died, leaving only two pieces of property tax legislation still alive in that chamber. Four property tax relief bills are still alive in the House.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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LW

Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter