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House passes mandatory suicide prevention training along with dozens of other bills

  • House session Feb. 27, 2019. —Courtesy

Published: 2/27/2019 1:24:44 PM

A bill that would require New Hampshire schools to provide at least two hours of suicide prevention training for staff each year is one step closer to becoming law.

The House of Representatives took up dozens of issues Wednesday and will continue its work Thursday, moving some bills to the Senate, others to committees and many to their swift demise.

House Bill 652 passed the House with a voice vote Wednesday morning. It will now move to the state Senate.

“This gives kids a message that it’s okay to turn to your teachers, your guidance counselors,” said Martha Dickey, a mother who lost her 19-year-old son Jason to suicide in 2017. ” If a child is depressed or contemplating hurting themselves, they will have people they can go to for help without judgment.”

HB 652 would require schools to carry out two hours a year of suicide prevention training for teachers, supervisors and administrators. It also recommends that bus drivers, janitors and other staff that come into contact with students receive the training as well.

The exact form of the training could be determined by individual schools.

Informally titled the “Jason Flatt Act,” the bill would add New Hampshire to a national campaign that has so far seen 19 states mandate the training. Jason Flatt, the 16-year-old son of Clark Flatt, took his life in 1997, prompting his father to launch a foundation in his name and push for changes state by state.

That organization, the Jason Foundation, has offered training curricula for interested schools at no cost.

New Hampshire appears to have a void to fill. A 2014 survey of Granite State schools found that only seven percent of responding schools said they had annual suicide prevention training, according to Ken Norton, Executive Director of NAMI New Hampshire in Concord.

Over 75 percent said they wanted to provide the training, Norton said at a hearing for the bill in January.

Dickey, who pioneered the legislation and was able to secure the support of Gov. Chris Sununu, said that although he was 19 when he died, her son might have had a better chance if those around him had been more educated about warning signs while he was still in high school.

“He kept a connection to MV and maybe perhaps if he knew his guidance counselors or his favorite teacher had that type of training, he would have turned to them,” she said.

Educators have a major opportunity to influence kids, Dickey said.

“Our kids spend between six and eight hours of a day with them and often they are going to be on that front line when kids are in distress,” she said. “They owe it to the kids to become part of that continuum of care – parents, teachers, and then medical providers. They all need to work together.”

Dickey said she is hopeful the bill will pass the Senate.

“The Jason Flatt Act has the potential to save lives,” she said. “That is a great feeling.”

Here are other items that were passed Wednesday:

■HB 528, which would prohibit state government from “cost of care” lawsuits – situations where the state sues inmates to recoup the cost of their incarceration. The vote comes days after a Merrimack County Superior Court judge ruled that the New Hampshire Department of Justice was justified in suing a Northwood man to recover the cost of his prison stay after he sued the prison for medical malpractice.

■HB 588, the “Bernie Sanders bill,” which would amend the filing form for the presidential primary to allow them if they are recognized by the party running the nomination. The bill would fix the confusion in 2015 when questions were raised over whether Sanders, traditionally an Independent, could run as a Democrat.

■HB 651, which would allow candidates for public office in New Hampshire to use some of their campaign donations for childcare. The bill has been presented as a way to entice more young candidates to run for office, by helping them overcome a common barrier: the cost of caring for their kids.

■HB 418, which would amend the new “double-dipping” law. Last year, lawmakers passed new restrictions on public employees who retire and then head back to work while still collecting their pensions – a common practice among town police and fire departments. That law grandfathered in any public workers who retired before the bill took effect, allowing them to work up to 32 hours a week. The new bill would expand on that grandfathering by allowing those workers to take higher positions. The effect: A police captain who retired before the enactment of the last law on Jan. 1 could come back to the same job and be promoted to chief.

■HB 174, which would provide for a new medical cannabis dispensary to serve Hillsborough and Merrimack Counties, by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to put out a bid for a provider. That facility would increase competition and improve access for urban areas, supporters have said.

■And HB 420, which would prohibit naming state roads, bridges and buildings after a person until two years after their death. The bill comes after controversy surrounding the naming of the University of New Hampshire business school after Peter Paul, who was accused by some Democrats of later using that move to help bolster a Congressional candidacy.

The House struck down a fair few bills as well. Among them:

■HB 161, which would have prohibited scam or prank calls where the caller removes Caller-ID to become anonymous. The committee reported that while a laudable goal, the technology, whether by the state, or the Federal Communications Commission simply doesn’t exist to adequately enforce it.

■Two constitutional amendments to transform the N.H. Legislature: one to allow the Executive Council to approve raises for lawmakers and another to reduce the size of the House from 400 to 200. Both were deemed by the committee unnecessary and without broad public support.

■And two bills that would have allowed older without school children to stop paying taxes toward schools. HB 129 would have exempted those 65 and older if they didn’t have children attending school, while HB 207 would allow something similar for those over 55. The committee – and House – rejected both.

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