School safety and most of the proposed teen suicide prevention legislation were among the casualties in the State Legislature’s rush to adjournment last Friday.
While a move to establish a state suicide prevention coordinator passed, the State House killed a measure that would have mandated two hours of annual suicide prevention training for teachers and staff in grades 6-12.
State Sen. Sean Bowie and state Rep. Mitzi Epstein – who both represent a district that covers Ahwatukee and parts of Mesa, Tempe and Chandler had sought the training in the wake of 34 suicides of East Valley children between the ages of 10 and 18 since May 2017.
They and state Rep. Jill Norgaard, the third legislator from Legislative District 18, also had sought the creation of a state coordinator of suicide prevention programs.
Katey McPherson, a longtime East Valley educator who has spearheaded a movement for more teen suicide prevention programs, was heartened by passage of the state coordinator position.
“While it is obvious that the teacher pay and school funding bill took top priority as it should, equally as important in the scope of safe schools to provide training and resources to school personnel in the social, emotional and physical safety of our students,” she said, adding:
“The data in Arizona, specifically teen suicide in the East Valley continues to speak to the need for immediate resources at the school level that connect children to care, mental health first aid, and outpatient referral sources. The appointment of a state level suicide prevention coordinator is a definitive win and first step. We need boots on the ground in every school – yesterday.”
The House also sunk a watered-down version of Gov. Doug Ducey’s comprehensive school and public safety plan.
The Senate on a straight 17-13 party line vote earlier last week approved the measure after Republicans removed a key provision designed to take guns away from dangerous people.
SB 1519 would have allowed police to ask a judge to have someone brought in for mental evaluation. And judges remain able to order temporary removal of weapons if there is “clear and convincing evidence’’ the person is a danger to self or others.
But Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, took out language which also would have allowed family members, school administrators, probation officers, behavioral health professionals, roommates and “significant others’’ to go to court to seek what are known as Severe Threat Orders of Protection.
“This amendment guts this bill, period,’’ said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.
Smith disagreed, saying that parents and others who believe someone is a danger still have the option of calling police who, in turn, could start the court process. Farley was unconvinced, saying law enforcement officers already have more than enough to do than go out and investigate every time someone calls with a complaint that a friend or family member is acting erratically and should be evaluated to see if their guns should be taken away.
In stripping the provision, Smith had the support of his GOP colleagues.
Ducey’s top aides, in unveiling the legislation earlier this year, stressed the importance of family members and school administrators in keeping schools safe and, in a larger sense, protecting the public against mass shootings.
Ducey’s plan also would have denied state-issued permits to carry concealed weapons to individuals with outstanding arrest warrants. That was not in the version that Smith brought to the floor.
Smith also took the lead in blocking various amendments offered by Democrats – including a ban on “bump stocks,’’ devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire off hundreds of rounds a minute and have been used in several massacres in recent months.