Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 136: Suicide Prevention Bill Approaches Another Hurdle

Today is the 137th day of the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature. The House returns from recess at 10:00 am, the Senate reconvenes at 10:30.

HB 1386 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), is eligible for concurrance at 12:50 pm in the House. The bill instructs the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop resources designed to prevent teen suicide, including mental health counseling, crisis prevention tools and suicide prevention eduction. Schools would then have the option of implementing those programs, but would not be required to do so.

After passing the House 107 to 39 the bill went to the Senate Education Committee for consideration. The committee made a key change to the bill. Originally HB 1386 allowed students to avail themselves of counseling services offered by their school anonymously, just as adults can receive counseling without other people knowing. The Senate changed that provision to require that parents be informed and consent to their child receiving counseling or other services. This change creates a delay in the provision of services as parents must first be contacted and their permission gained, and institutes a road block toward receiving services for students who might not want their parents to know they are having suicidal thoughts or are struggling with issues of gender or sexuality.

Because the Senate changed the bill the House must concur with the changes. House rules require that Senate amendments to House bills and an analysis of their effect be distributed to House members 24 hours before the vote to concur occurs. The Senate amendments were distributed yesterday at 12:35 pm, the analysis at 12:38 pm. If the House does not concur a "conference committee" of 5 House members (appointed by the Speaker of the House) and 5 Senators (appointed by the Lieutenant Governor) will be formed to work out a compromise.

Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) promised (in a shocking display of poor taste) that he was making a "suicide pact" with his fellow Senators that if a conference committee is formed the changes made by the Senate would remain in the bill. Considering the resoluteness of the Senate and the rapidly approaching end of session it seems likely that the House will simply concur and send a less than perfect, but still good, bill to the Governor's desk for signing.

UPDATE: The House has concurred with Senate Amendments to HB 1386, more info HERE.

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