State senators aim to create self-harm hotline | 2019 Legislative Session

OLYMPIA – Washington lawmakers want to create a hotline designated for reports of potential self-harm and criminal acts.

Senate Bill 5835 was co-sponsored by a group of 10 senators and introduced by Senator Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, at the request of a constituent who has struggled with suicidal thoughts. The bill aims to form a confidential tip line in order to improve suicide prevention.

The program was originally established in Michigan, said Brown at a public hearing Monday.

The hotline would use the same number throughout Washington, she explained.

SB 5835 requires the state attorney general to establish a statewide hotline for receiving reports or information from the public of potential self-harm or criminal acts, such as sexual abuse, assault or rape. The tip line would be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The attorney general would consult with the state patrol and the Health Care Authority to establish the program, should the bill pass.

James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, testified in opposition to SB 5835.

“It is a serious concern of ours to encourage members of the public to report imminent harm or criminal acts through something other than 911,” McMahan said.

Calling 911 is efficient, effective and the best way to provide immediate help, he explained.

According to the bill, the program must provide a means to direct reports to either local law enforcement or mental health officials. Hotline personnel will be trained to determine appropriate responses in terms of crisis management and community resources for people experiencing mental illness or emotional disturbance.

Any report or information submitted to the hotline would be confidential and not subject to public disclosure under the Public Records Act.

Kirk Williamson, program manager for Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance, testified in support of the confidential tip line in order to minimize youth suicide.

“Most schools have their own programs for encouraging and responding to student tips,” Williamson said. “We recognize their value and we want to enhance that rather than replacing those programs.”

Williamson explained how the program would reach people through voice, text, email and other online channels.

This is a way to get actionable intelligence for local organizations and responders, he said.

“When 911 answers a call, they say, ‘Where is your emergency?’ A trained operator on a tip line would say something like, ‘How can I help?’” Williamson said.

Madeline Coats is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.

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