House passes Rep. Stewart’s bill to create a national suicide prevention hotline

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The Utah Capitol steps are covered with 600 pairs of shoes on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, representing the lives lost to suicide last year. SB37 sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, calls for a committee of mental health workers and physicians to create a suicide prevention hotline 24 hours a day.

Washington • The U.S. House this week passed legislation by Rep. Chris Stewart to create a three-digit suicide prevention hotline, similar to summoning emergency responders by dialing 911, that would allow those considering ending their lives an easy-to-remember number to call for help.

“Every nine minutes someone commits suicide in the U.S. and for every suicide-related death there are 25 attempts,” Stewart said after the House passed the measure 379-1. “These are truly heartbreaking statistics and sadly they hit close to home.”

Utah ranks fifth in the nation for the highest suicide deaths per capita.

Stewart says the current national hotline number is “cumbersome and hard to recall.” The new proposed three-digit number has not been decided.

The Senate previously passed a companion bill by Sen. Orrin Hatch to build the nationwide hotline. The Senate or the House will now have to pass the other's version of the legislation to send it to President Donald Trump's desk.

Hatch said this week that setting up a three-digit hotline will make it more accessible to those who need help and “we can save thousands of lives by helping people find the help they need when they need it most,”

“Every minute we wait, we leave helpless hundreds of Americans who are struggling with suicidal thoughts,” Hatch said. “There are literally lives on the line here—and leaving them on hold is not an option. I’m pleased that the House has at long last taken action to move this legislation.”

The single nay vote in the House came from Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who said he applauded the goal but that it wasn't within the purview of the federal government to create the hotline.

“It’s another good idea without a constitutional basis,” Amash said on Twitter. “I swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and I take that oath seriously. Constitutional limits are meaningless if we ignore them whenever we like the policy outcome.”