In 2015, Hannah Warburton — a Huntsville teenager who had been a student body officer with straight A’s — was in crisis and called a suicide prevention line. No one answered.
“Hannah then exited this life,” said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, as he argued for his HB41, also known as “Hannah’s bill.”
“This bill is designed to ensure that never happens again in the state of Utah to one of our citizens in a moment of crisis,” he said as Hannah’s mother stood by, sometimes in tears.
The House unanimously passed the bill Friday and sent it to the Senate. It requires that crisis lines operate around the clock every day of the year, or that calls are transferred to a statewide line that does. Legislative analysts estimate that the provisions would cost the state about $2.4 million annually.
“There’s about 20 crisis numbers that people can call across the state” that receive a combined 10,000 calls a year, Eliason said. “There’s only one line that is answered 24/7/365 by licensed clinical social workers that have special training in crisis intervention.”
That state crisis line is 800-273-TALK. The other lines now sometimes may ring busy, go unanswered, or go to voicemail.
“Can you imagine if you called 911 and received a voicemail, or a busy signal, or were routed to a phone tree?” Eliason asked.
The bill’s passage came as Hannah Warburton’s mother, Laura, watched emotionally from the House floor. It also came as a long parade of lawmakers talked about family members and friends who struggle with suicidal thoughts.
Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, said she has struggled herself and urged people in that position to seek the help that she added made her life worth living again.
“I suffered for many years,” she said, crying. “I contemplated this selfish decision. A lot of times when we try to think about this, we’re not in our right mind. So don’t judge, please.”
She added, “It’s been through therapy and counseling and medication that I’ve been able to have a life again, and enjoy life and enjoy my family…. Please, please watch and listen to those who you love.”
“We’ve lost some of our own in this chamber,” noted House Democratic leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. “Life is hard.”
“You really don’t know fear and dread until you are on the phone and a person you love and are responsible for says, ‘I love you, goodbye.’ I got that from a young man twice in two years who tried to take his life,” said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City.
“This money is going to save lives,” he said. “Because we spend this money, people will live who would not otherwise live.”
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, said the day before the session began, a friend took his life. “I’ve seen too many young people that just don’t know where to turn,” he said. “This really could be one of the most important bills this entire session.”
Eliason said he lost a member of his extended family to suicide. “The impact it has on extended family is incalculable and indescribable.” He added that “last year, was our worst year on record. We lost 64 10- to 19-year-olds.”
The House also passed unanimously Eliason’s HB42, which orders state officials to seek waivers to Medicaid rules to fund crisis lines and mobile crisis outreach teams.