TOPEKA – The Senate Chambers broke out into debate after Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Miami) tried to amend HB 2365, which would allow Kansas National Guard members to get confidential peer counseling. But her amendment would have forced the attorney general to appoint an additional coordinator to the youth suicide prevention program in Kansas.
The National Guard is committed to preventing troop suicides. It says that due to the extreme amount of stress their members are under and the rising number of all suicides in Kansas, 45 percent in the last 20 years according to the CDC, there is a need to find better way of prevention.
The National Guard in Kansas reported in 2012-2013 that suicides rose from 138 to 158. The Guard says they are working on suicide risk reduction, which means intervening before an attempt and which includes providing therapy.
Baumgardner believes the amendment and bill go hand in hand as intervention is the best way to prevent suicide. She believes because the attorney general is committed to preventing suicide in all age groups, this amendment will require someone else to join the team and start intervening with suicidal youth.
Sen. David Haley (D-Wyandotte) argued that the amendment was not relevant to the bill being passed but Baumgardner was determined to get this added to the bill and because the main goal of the bill is to prevent future suicide, the committee also deemed it relevant. The CDC once again reports that Kansas has the fifth-highest increase in rise in youth suicide.
Baumgardner hoped to add her amendment to this bill so that the state can get to work right away on it.
Baumgardner addressed the Senate saying “It is the responsibility of the Attorney General's’ office to identify what is the cause of death and likewise, it is viewed as appropriate to do whatever is possible to prevent any of the deaths of minors in our state.”
She compared how important it is for those at risk to receive help including National Guard members and our youth.
“No one is addressing the steep increase in suicide throughout our state in all age groups; including children as young as kindergarten,” she said.
Although Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) agreed with Baumgardner that youth suicide in the state has reached an epidemic, Pilcher-Cook believes the amendment should not be added and a new bill addressing youth suicide should be created. The United Health Foundation’s health rankings show Kansas youth suicides at 11.6 as compared to the U.S. average of 8.9.
Baumgardner declared that if they don’t act now on this bill then many more lives will be lost before a new bill could reach the committee. Pilcher-Cook agreed, saying, “I’m not sure what agency should handle this but we need to start now, not tomorrow. It can’t wait”
Haley and Baumgardner continued arguing with Baumgardner conceding that the amendment should remain separate to the bill being raised. Even though Haley was passionate about his commitment to remedy suicides in Kansas, he still believed that the time was not right to raise the issue because counseling being provided to the National Guard should not include hiring someone new. After much back and forth the Senate agreed to pass the amendment as well as the bill.
On March 27, the bill passed in the Senate on Emergency Action and after the bill was sent to the House, it was determined to need further review before going forward. The bill is now back in the Senate awaiting revisions.
Samantha Gilstrap is a University of Kansas senior from Charlotte, North Carolina majoring in journalism.