New suicide prevention program recommended in Wisconsin

MADISON — A legislative task force that studied ways to prevent suicides in Wisconsin is recommending the creation of a statewide suicide prevention program with a director who would oversee the effort, according to a copy of its recommendations obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos created the bipartisan task force in March. It was to officially release its findings at a Capitol news conference on Wednesday.

Republicans have sparred with Democrats over how best to tackle the problem of suicide in Wisconsin. The Republican-controlled budget committee has deferred spending money on suicide prevention programs awaiting the task force's recommendations.

The budget Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed into law included $220,000 to help fund the Suicide HOPELine, supported by the Center for Suicide Awareness. It provides immediate help to people in crisis by sending text messages.

But the budget committee has not released the money, pending recommendation of the task force. It is calling for passage of a bill to release the funding, a process that will take longer than simply having the budget committee make it available.

The task force's recommendation includes requiring the sharing of data by operators of the hotline to the state regarding usage of the service and how the money was spent.

Any bill introduced as recommended by the task force would have to pass both the Assembly and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, and be signed by Evers before becoming law.

The Legislature is not scheduled to be in session again until October.

Vos' spokesman Kit Beyer said the speaker hadn't seen the final report but would discuss it with his caucus. Evers' spokeswoman Britt Cudaback declined to comment on the report.

Other recommendations from the task force include:

— Creating a new statewide suicide-prevention program that would be housed at the Department of Health Services. It would be charged with providing educational programs for the public, training and enhancing crisis services in schools, nursing homes and other places where people are at a high risk. The office would also be charged with reviewing data and research on suicides to develop recommendations on future prevention efforts. It would administer suicide prevention grants. Two new positions would be created, including a director of suicide prevention.

— Spending $500,000 over two years for grants to local government and private groups for suicide prevention programs. Another $500,000 would be made available under a competitive grant program for high schools to support peer-to-peer suicide prevention programs.

— Requiring public schools, the University of Wisconsin System, technical colleges and private colleges to include the number for a suicide prevention hotline on student ID cards.

— Spending $150,000 over two years to share guidelines and train staff at firearms dealers and firearms ranges about how to avoid renting or selling a firearm to someone who may be a suicide risk.