House measure aims to boost suicide awareness and prevention, promote 988 Crisis Lifeline

      The Missouri House has taken time in the waning days of the session to pass a bipartisan effort to address suicide awareness and prevention.

Representative Ann Kelley (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      It sent to the Senate House Bill 2136, the “Jason Flatt/Avery Reine Cantor Act,” which would require public schools, charter schools, and public higher education institutions that print pupil identification cards to print on those cards the new three-digit number for the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 988. 

      “988 is going to be our new mental health suicide hotline beginning in July, so this is going to encourage school districts to get that out there to the public so that we can start using that,” explained the bill’s sponsor, Representative Ann Kelley (R-Lamar)

      The bill also contains provisions meant to equip and encourage pharmacists to identify possible signs of suicide and respond to them.  This includes the “Tricia Leanne Tharp Act,” sponsored by Representative Adam Schwadron (R-St. Charles).

“This would allow the Board of Pharmacy to create two continuing education credit hours for pharmacists to take, to allow them to apply that to their continuing education credits in suicide awareness and prevention,” said Schwadron.

      The bill was amended to make sure all pharmacists can participate in that continuing education, regardless of where they work.  That change was offered by Representative Patty Lewis (D-Kansas City), who said, “All licensed pharmacists, whether they work inside the four walls of the hospital in an acute care setting or in retail pharmacy [would] have the opportunity to participate in the continuing education to address suicide prevention because there’s such a great need.”

      Bolivar representative Mike Stephens (R) is a pharmacist, and said he and others in that profession are well-positioned to be able to identify and work to prevent suicide.   

Representative Patty Lewis (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I think it’s an important thing for pharmacists at every place along the way to be informed and be a part of this process, be aware.  I know in my own personal practice you have intimate contact with patients and you see them during their treatments and there are times that you feel like things aren’t as they ought to be but [you’re] not sure what sort of interventions are appropriate.  I think this will be very helpful,” said Stephens.

Similar language will allow teachers and principals to count two hours in suicide-related training toward their continuing education.

The bill advanced to the Senate 142-0 after several members spoke about their own experiences regarding suicide.

Festus Republican Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway told her colleagues that every seven hours someone commits suicide in Missouri.  It’s the tenth leading cause of death in the state and the second leading cause among those aged 10 to 34. 

“When you think about age 10 all the way up to 34 this is covering all of our children in schools and college when they first get out of school and they’re finding their first jobs or meeting someone and becoming a family, and I think that anything that we can do to bring awareness to this issue is just incredible,” said Buchheit-Courtway.  “Mental health awareness is so important to so many of us here.”

      Representative Dave Griffith (R-Jefferson City) said he knows of a 14 year-old who committed suicide two months ago, just south of the capital city.

Representative Adam Schwadron (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“He did it because he was being bullied in school and he felt there was no other way out and he couldn’t talk about it.  It became very obvious to that community the need for us to be able to talk and have some kind of tools in our hands to be able to prevent these types of tragic events,” said Griffith.  “The suicide prevention hotline number, I believe every school will put it on their cards.  There’s no reason for them not to do that.”

      Representative Rasheen Aldridge, Junior (D-St. Louis) told the body, “One of my good friends in high school, best friend … who is also between that age that the lady talked about, only in 10th grade, committed suicide … it takes a toll on loved ones, it takes a toll on friends, it takes a toll on people that love that individual and all individuals that have committed suicide.”

      The legislation stems partly from the work of the Subcommittee on Mental Health Policy Research, of which Lewis is a member and Buchheit-Courtway is the chairwoman.     

      The school-related provisions of the bill would take effect in the 2023-24 school year.

New registry of murderers proposed

      Missouri’s current sex offender registry would be expanded to include a registry of individuals who are on probation or parole for first or second degree murder under a bill being considered in the House.

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The legislation would not simply add such individuals to the existing registry, according to bill sponsor Lane Roberts (R-Joplin)

“This is a separate column.  It does not mix the data.  It would rename the registry, ‘Sex offender and violent offender registry.’  Its purpose is to allow the public to know who is on parole for second degree murder,” Roberts told the Committee on Crime Prevention

Roberts explained that Missouri citizens often don’t know when someone guilty of such violent crimes is living or working near them.

“Conviction of second degree murder often is the result of a plea bargain.  Often the underlying conduct is first degree murder,” said Roberts.

Legislators on the committee asked whether such information is already available to the public through avenues such as the Missouri Court System’s website.  He said that isn’t always an avenue for an average Missourian. 

Further, he said such state-based resources won’t list such individuals when they come to Missouri from other states through the interstate compact, and most Missourians don’t even know that can happen.

      Testifying for the bill was Mona Lisa Caylor, who said it was a man on parole for a 1983 murder in Tennessee who murdered her sister, Willana “Anita” Dunn in 2016 and dropped her body down an abandoned mine shaft. 

      Caylor told legislators her sister allowed her killer into her life and was even renting her home from him.  She and her family knew nothing about his criminal background, or that the life story he had told them was a lie.

      “Why are paroled violent murderers allowed to be anonymous?” Caylor asked the committee.  “Why would we not want to know who is working, who is living in our community that’s a murderer?”

      “They deserve a second chance.  They get their chance.  There’s not a parole board that can ever guarantee that someone is not going to reoffend,” Caylor added.

      Representative Rasheen Aldridge Jr. (D-St. Louis) wondered what this registry would accomplish, and what it would mean for individuals who are trying to reintegrate into society after serving their prison time.

      That’s just my concern, that we’re only giving people that, once they do do their time and we say ‘second chances’ and we believe in second chances, that this is kind of giving them a second chance but also saying, ‘Watch out for Tim down the street,” said Aldridge.  “[I] think it’s a good idea but I don’t understand the accountability piece or really the reasoning of adding them to a registry and we’re not giving them either the services they need or truly trying to give them a second chance without a black cloud being over them.”

      Roberts acknowledged Aldridge’s concerns.  He said that while no one should assume that because someone has committed one murder that they will commit another, he feels that if someone has overcome their conscious to kill once it raises concern they could do it again.

      “People of a certain caliber or a certain level of criminal activity have a different propensity and the consequences of their actions have a different consequence to the victims associated with those crimes.  That’s why we have a sex offender registry, because of the consequences of the crimes that they commit,” said Roberts.

      The bill, House Bill 1705, specifies that individuals on this new registry would come off of it when they complete their probation or parole.  The committee voted 7-1 to advance the bill, which now faces another committee before it could go to the full House.