Guest Column: Fully Fund the 988 Suicide LIfeline and Save Lives

Guest columnist Rep. Jon Conrad writes, "By refusing to provide stable, long-term funding for the suicide lifeline, the Wyoming legislature is accepting the fact that loss of life is part of Wyoming culture. I refuse to accept that."

CSD Staff

March 01, 20243 min read

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

For several years, Wyoming has been number one per capita for death by suicide in the nation. This is not a race that any state wants to win, but one that Wyoming has been the frontrunner in for far too long.

Anyone reading these words has a personal story or knows a personal story of someone we lost long before it was time. This pain is never temporary but a persistent wound that radiates through a family for generations.

In 2022, the Joint Revenue Committee proposed a bill that finalized the best practices for 988 call centers and would fund them ongoing through the interest generated from an investment trust.

The 2023 Wyoming Legislature passed the bill and established the trust but refused to fund it. Many argued, regardless of Wyoming being number one in suicide deaths and the only state without a state call center, that there was no data to prove it worked.

They used this to justify not voting for this investment in Wyoming's lives. 

Now, it is 2024, and the two 988 call centers in Wyoming have been live for approximately 18 months.

The data is in, and it is more than evident that it is effective. Preliminary CDC data shows that Wyoming has dropped to the number three spot, with Montana and Alaska in the lead. From 2022 to 2023, the 988 call volume increased by 62%. Of the 12,303 calls answered in 2023, 3,592 were for the veteran's crisis line

With important data in its initial year, Governor Gordon's support, and the people of Wyoming demanding lifesaving funding, I brought HB186 – 988 hotline - appropriation to the House with the intention to fully fund it at 40 million. 

Nineteen Representatives voted against its introduction and last Friday evening, the bill died as it was not considered for the Committee of the Whole. To emphasize, it was not even considered. It was passed aside without discussion or a vote. 

It is hard to understand how such a deliberate oversight could be considered pro-life. 

It is healthy for all in the Wyoming legislature to disagree. The best solutions for Wyoming involve everyone representing their communities and working together.

But when such an imperative issue is discarded, it is apparent that an unhealthy amount of apathy is present. By refusing to provide stable, long-term funding for the suicide lifeline, the Wyoming Legislature is accepting the fact that loss of life is part of Wyoming culture. 

I refuse to accept that.

While we were not able to hear HB186, our insurance plan rests with House Budget Amendment 33.

This amendment states that the state auditor shall transfer $40 million "from the general fund to the 988 system trust fund."

The fate of funding the 988 hotline now rests with the House and Senate Budget Conference Committee, which will decide how to reconcile the differences between the two bodies' budgets.

We must maintain faith that we will see funding for this critical lifeline this year.

I will only accept a Wyoming where its people have the support they deserve, where Wyoming comes in 50th for suicide deaths.

That involves a fully funded 988 trust fund that will provide long-term, stable funds for Wyoming's lives now and in its future. I have no plans to cease until this becomes a reality.  

Rep. Jon Conrad is a Republican serving House District 19 in Uinta County since 2023.

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CSD Staff