Crisis hotline task force advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval March 30 to creation of a task force to study the implementation of a crisis hotline in Nebraska.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks

LB247, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, would establish the Mental Health Crisis Hotline Task Force to create an implementation plan for the 988 crisis hotline established by the federal government in 2020.

Pansing Brooks said the new number — similar to 911 — will be rolled out nationwide to help individuals in crisis and lessen the burden of non-law enforcement related calls currently placed to 911. Callers to the new 988 line will be connected to a qualified mental health provider.

Pansing Brooks said that one person died by suicide every 32 hours in Nebraska in 2018, demonstrating the need for more options for individuals experiencing a crisis.

“The mental health needs in our state are tragic, costly and dire,” she said. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34.”

Voting members of the task force would include the chairpersons of the Health and Human Services, Judiciary and Transportation and Telecommunications committees and two at-large members of the Legislature appointed by the Executive Board.

Representatives from the state Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and the Public Service Commission — along with advocacy, educational and mental health representatives — would be nonvoting members.

The task force would issue a report to the Legislature by Dec. 17, 2021, regarding implementation plans and recommendations and would terminate on Dec. 31, 2022.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango expressed concern about the ultimate funding source for the crisis line, noting that the state already imposes fees on landlines and wireless carriers to fund 911.

“I’m certainly not opposed to having a 988 mental health hotline,” Hughes said. “We just need to make sure we understand what’s going to be at the end of this path … there is going to be a fee increase of some sort to [implement] this.”

Following adoption of a technical amendment, senators voted 43-0 to advance LB247 to select file.

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