Legislature(2011 - 2012)SENATE FINANCE 532
01/30/2012 09:00 AM FINANCE
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SENATE BILL NO. 137 "An Act requiring suicide awareness and prevention training for certain school personnel." 9:22:28 AM Senator Davis stated that SB 137 would allow teachers and school employees to obtain suicide prevention training. Mr. Obermeyer explained the bill, and quoted the Sponsor Statement (copy on file). He stated that SB 137, short titled the Jason Flatt Act, required mandatory youth suicide awareness and prevention training approved by the Commissioner, Department of Education and Early Development to each teacher, administrator, counselor, and specialist who was employed by a school district, regional educational attendance area, or department each year for services to students in grades 7 to 12. Training was important because suicide was the third leading cause of death for ages 10-24 and the number one cause of death for Alaskans under the age 50 years. Mr. Obermeyer stated that awareness and education were the keys to prevention, and tying suicide prevention efforts into teacher training had proved very helpful in other states for reducing teen suicides. Most young people contemplating suicide showed clear warning signs prior to the attempt. It was imperative that educators know how to recognize signs of at-risk youth and were prepared to intervene when they identified a problem. Mr. Obermeyer explained that recognizing that Alaska had by far the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country, particularly among teens, young men, and Alaska Natives. The Alaska Mental Health Board and Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, in partnership with the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, the Alaska Association of Student Governments, the University of Alaska, and the Jason Foundation had established goals, training programs, and resources for teachers, coaches and staff in suicide prevention. Mr. Obermeyer noted that the bill would create the needed hope, promise, and optimism to build healthy and appropriate relationships and behaviors. By requiring suicide prevention training for educators and school staff, the state of Alaska can ensure the youth at risk of suicide were more likely to be identified and receive help. Mr. Obermeyer noted the fiscal note, and felt that some member fees could be eliminated through donations from foundations. 9:28:39 AM Co-Chair Stedman noted the fiscal impact note from the Department of Education and Early Development. He requested a look at whether the fiscal note could be adjusted, per Mr. Obermeyer's observation. Senator Davis remarked that there was some money in the governor's proposed budget that could possibly be used for the program. JAMES BIELA, AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION, BETHEL (via teleconference), testified in support of SB 137. He stressed that teachers and school employees were the main contact for most students in Alaska. 9:33:09 AM CAROL WATERS, ALASKA ASSOCIATION OF STUDENT GOVERNMENTS, ANCHORAGE (via teleconference), spoke in support of SB 137. She felt that suicide prevention should be a focus when training educators and school employees. She shared an anecdote regarding an associate who had numerous family members, friends, and acquaintances who had committed suicide. SONNIE ANDERSON, KLAWOK SCHOOLS (via teleconference), testified in support of SB 137. She explained a resolution that had passed among the Alaska Association of Student Governments. 9:37:54 AM AT EASE 9:38:31 AM RECONVENED Ms. Anderson continued with her testimony. She furthered with her explanation of the resolution. 9:40:23 AM CLARK FLATT, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE JASON FOUNDATION, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (via teleconference), testified in support of SB 137. He noted that a similar bill had been passed in six other states. He pointed out that five states had passed the bill without a fiscal note. He stressed that educators could reduce the number of suicides. Education was a key to the foundation of preventing suicide. SHARIN STRUTZNORTON, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF SUICIDE PREVENTION, HOMER (via teleconference), testified in support of SB 137. She stated that she had a history of suicide in her family. 9:46:21 AM DONNA BARTMAN, ALASKA ASSOCIATION OF STUDENT GOVERNMENTS, MANOKOTAK (via teleconference), spoke in support of SB 137. She referred to the resolution for the Association of Student Governments, and stressed that it had passed with unanimous consent. She felt that the bill should focus on ages younger than seventh grade. She stressed that some elders in her Yupik culture were lacking in leadership, and even taking their own lives. 9:50:42 AM ANN SCHAACK, NORTH STAR, ANCHORAGE (via teleconference), testified in support of SB 137. MADISON MANNING, ALASKA ASSOCIATION OF STUDENT GOVERNMENTS, PORT HEIDEN (via teleconference), spoke in support of SB 137. BYRON CHARLES, TRIBAL MEMBER OF TLINGIT AND HAIDA, KETCHIKAN (via teleconference), testified in support of SB 137. He explained that the tourism industry provided jobs, and that jobs were the key to preventing suicide. KATE BURKHART, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, STATEWIDE SUICIDE PREVENTION COUNCIL, testified in support of SB 137. She noted a letter of formal support from the Suicide Awareness and Prevention Training (copy on file). 9:58:50 AM LES MORSE, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT, explained the fiscal note and cost of the implementing the bill. He pointed out that the funding behind the fiscal note would be the e-learning model and expertise. He stated that the fees would contribute to the e-learning module. He explained that there were some no- cost modules available from the Jason Foundation. He noted that there would be some updates required from year to year. He stressed that Department of Education and Early Development modules could track usage and effectiveness. Co-Chair Stedman felt that the bill sponsor should focus on the issues that Mr. Morse addressed. Senator Olson wondered if there were plans to focus on school districts with higher rates of suicide. Mr. Morse replied that the fiscal note from the Department of Education and Early Development would provide money for training for everyone, however there was money available in the Governor's budget from the Suicide Prevention Council. The funds needed to be examined to determine exactly how and where they would be distributed, without excluding any school district. Senator Egan wondered if it was up to the individual school boards to make the training mandatory in the school districts. Mr. Morse replied that the districts would be required to implement the training based on a list of trainings that would be approved by the Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development. In response to a question from Senator Thomas, Mr. Morse stated that there would be money from the governor's proposed budget that could be used for suicide prevention training. He pointed out that students had expressed concern and interest in piloting a program called Cognito, which was a suicide prevention tool. 10:05:27 AM KATYA WASSILLIE, INTERN, SENATOR BETTYE DAVIS, stressed that the bill would particularly impact rural Alaska. She shared personal experiences with suicide. Senator Olson felt that suicides were often committed because an older person commits suicide, so younger people were copying the older people. Ms. Wassillie felt that if there was more awareness at the school level, the indicator awareness could spread out throughout the community. Senator Bettye Davis thanked the committee. SB 137 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further consideration.