AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that aims to prevent suicide among Maine’s youth breezed through the House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday on unanimous roll-call votes and was signed into law immediately by Gov. Paul LePage.
The measure passed 147-0 in the House and 34-0 in the Senate before LePage signed it Thursday afternoon.
“The devastating effect suicide has on Maine families and communities is real and we must be willing to address the issue,” said LePage in a prepared statement.
LD 609, An Act to Increase Suicide Awareness and Prevention in Maine Public Schools, requires that educators throughout Maine be trained to recognize the signs that a student may be contemplating suicide.
“The purpose of this bill is to save lives,” said Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, the bill’s primary sponsor. “This is not a partisan issue. This is a human issue. I am honored and humbled that the family members of suicide victims asked me to sponsor this bill.”
Legislative committee hearings on the bill last month provided some of the most emotional testimony that lawmakers have heard this year. Dozens of parents and educators gave testimony about beloved children and students who took their own lives. Many of those testifying said that a single person noticing something amiss could have made all the difference.
Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, who is co-chairwoman of the Education Committee, said in a prepared statement that the parents and siblings who brought their suicide survivor stories to Augusta made a big impression on legislators.
“As lawmakers we owe to them and all Maine families to do everything we can to bring awareness and prevention to this issue,” said Millett. “I am proud of the work the Legislature did on this issue. It was emotional. It was heartfelt and it is critically important.”
Members of the committee, who voted unanimously in favor of recommending the bill’s passage, suggested that covering any costs associated with the bill should be a top priority despite the state’s dire financial situation. Gilbert’s bill had 103 co-sponsors, which constitutes more than half the Legislature.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, the measure will require school districts to pay for one-day courses in suicide prevention and intervention for a minimum of two people per district. Gilbert said that cost is a total of about $44,000 statewide. School districts also are required to provide at least two hours of training for all personnel.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Mainers younger than 24, and Maine has the 11th-highest suicide rate in the nation, according to Gilbert and others. Studies show that 13 percent of high school seniors in Maine have seriously contemplated suicide and nearly 8 percent attempt it.
“Depression knows no party, gender or age,” said Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, who spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Suicidal thoughts are not to be ashamed of, but talked about.”
Gilbert, who is in his third term in the Legislature, told the Bangor Daily News last month that this bill is the most important and rewarding measure he has ever been involved with. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention awarded him the “Caring About Lives in Maine” award for his work on this bill.
In tribute to some of suicide’s victims, the House adjourned Thursday in honor of Glen Gilchrist and Timmy Thompson, who both died of suicide.