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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana lawmakers vote down funding for youth suicide screening

Montana lawmakers Monday narrowly voted down a bill that would have funded suicide screening for middle and high school students.

Rep. Jonathan Karlen of Missoula, who is carring the bill, noted the scope of youth suicide in Montana on the House floor.

”Montana kids are more than 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the national average, and that’s despite a lot of efforts over the last 40 years,” Karlen said.

The bill would require the state to contract with a behavioral health organization to screen students for mental health issues.

Lawmakers voted against the bill 51 to 49. Rep. Jennifer Carlson from Manhattan said the service is redundant.

“We already have a statewide suicide prevention coordinator,” Carlson said. “He works for DPHHS and has his own division. This is what he does.”

Carlson also noted her opposition to the cost, which would draw roughly $4.7 million annually from marijuana tax revenue. Other opponents said lawmakers are considering other funding options for youth suicide prevention.

Rural Behavioral Health Institute currently surveys students as part of a state pilot program. Executive Director Janet Lindow said in a written statement “The program has already connected 1 out of 10 children with potentially life-saving care demonstrating the high need for this type of programming in our state.”

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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