By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA - A package of bills aimed at addressing youth suicide in Montana is working its way through the Legislature.

One of those bills, House Bill 381, would allow school districts to create policies and procedures for suicide prevention and response specific to their communities.

Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, is the sponsor of the bill, which passed the House 87-12 last month. During debate on the House floor he said, “Wherever you are, you’re going to acknowledge that you need to have a plan - lack of a better word - an emergency response plan.”

During that same debate, Rep. Jessica Karjala, D-Billings, opposed the bill and said a suicide review team already does what this bill is trying to accomplish.

“Those of you who are familiar with it know that Karl Rosston does a great job - there’s a board that oversees it. They do work with the schools,” Karjala said.

Rosston is the suicide prevention coordinator through the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, supported the bill and said the more tools the state has for dealing with this issue, the better.

“We always say that local control should take care of this, and we just need to give them some guidance here,” Windy Boy said.

The bill is one of several pieces of legislation addressing mental illness in the state that cleared transmittal deadline, which is when bills need to be passed by one chamber to move on. Eight mental health bills missed that deadline, one of which would have allowed licensed mental health professionals to provide treatment in a school setting.

The Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee will hear first testimony on the HB 381 Wednesday.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.