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Funding for Wyoming’s suicide lifeline might fare better this session

A bill that would put $40 million in a trust fund for Wyoming’s suicide lifeline cleared its introductory vote Thursday.

Rep. Jon Conrad (R-Mountain View) addresses the Wyoming House of Representatives during the 2024 legislative session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of harming themselves, please call 911. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text “WYO” to 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Long-term funding for Wyoming’s suicide hotline might have better prospects this legislative session. 

Lawmakers in the House introduced a bill Thursday that would allocate $40 million for the state’s 988 system trust fund, clearing the two-thirds approval required to be considered during the short budget session. 

Last year, lawmakers wrangled over a bill that aimed to provide long-term funding for Wyoming’s 988 suicide lifeline, which had recently expanded its hours to offer 24/7 support. 

The measure would have created a $40 million trust fund and a $6 million reserve account to pay for the lifeline and other suicide prevention efforts. But the Legislature was split on the method of funding these services, and some questioned the efficacy of the 988 lifeline. In the end, lawmakers passed a greatly diminished version of the original bill — while the measure that made it into law created a trust fund, lawmakers didn’t approve any money to kick it off, leaving future funding for the lifeline uncertain. 

But even with the two-thirds approval required for introduction this time around, the bill didn’t falter in the House, gaining the favor of three lawmakers — Reps. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett), Dalton Banks (R-Cowley) and Daniel Singh (R-Cheyenne) — who had voted against the funding last year. The bill will most likely sail through the House now, though it could face challenges in the Senate. 

“We do have a role in suicide prevention,” Rep. Jon Conrad (R-Mountain View), the bill’s sponsor, told lawmakers Thursday. 

“The loss of life is preventable, and being pro-life means supporting life after birth.” 

Some of the same arguments on the funding method remained. 

“I don’t think there’s any person within this body that does not want to fund the suicide prevention hotline. But do we want to give away control to a trust fund and limit our power of the purse strings?” Rep. Scott Heiner (R-Green River) asked lawmakers. 

Historically, Wyoming has been plagued by some of the nation’s highest suicide rates. New data, however, shows the Equality State no longer leads the country

Wyoming established its first in-state suicide lifeline following 2020 federal legislation that established 988 as the national suicide and crisis lifeline, replacing 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). A second in-state hotline was later created. Prior to the establishment of these hotlines, Wyomingites would be connected with a national lifeline, which wasn’t as effective at directing people to local resources. 

But Wyoming’s two call centers were only able to offer support part-time. Thus came a push to expand the lifeline services so they would be available 24/7. Wyoming’s lifeline became available around the clock in July 2022. 

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 alone, Wyoming’s 988 service routed more than 550 calls, according to data from the Wyoming Department of Health.

But right now, this service is mostly paid for with federal COVID relief dollars, which are expected to dry up after June 2025. 

The House considered several mental health bills at the beginning of the floor session Thursday morning. House Speaker Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) reiterated his priority to address mental health issues this session. 

“You’re gonna see four bills at the top, and obviously, they’ll fall or rise, but they are all mental health bills, and that has been a priority of mine, and I think we heard that it was a priority of the chief executive,” Sommers said. 

“So I just wanted to bring these bills forward kind of one at a time, but I just want to reiterate the importance of mental health and mental health services in the state of Wyoming.” 

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.