AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage pledged $44,000 from his contingency fund Tuesday to support one of the most emotional bills presented to lawmakers this session.
LD 609, An Act to Increase Suicide Awareness and Prevention in Maine Public Schools, won unanimous support at the committee level and in both the House and Senate in April. It requires that educators throughout Maine be trained to recognize signs that a student might be contemplating suicide. LePage signed the bill into law the same day it received final passage in the Senate.
Third-term Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, the bill’s primary sponsor, told the Bangor Daily News last month that it was the most important piece of legislation he has sponsored. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Mainers younger than 24 and Maine has the second-highest suicide rate in the nation, according to data distributed during the legislative process by Gilbert and others. Studies show that 13 percent of high school seniors in Maine have seriously contemplated suicide and nearly 8 percent attempt it.
Several families and loved ones of suicide victims attended the ceremonial bill signing Tuesday afternoon. Rep. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick, said after the event that LePage had pledged $44,000, which is what the training is estimated to cost in its first year of implementation. LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett confirmed that the administration will use $44,000 from its contingency account to partner with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Maine to conduct the training.
The bill calls for suicide prevention awareness education programs to be implemented at Maine high schools beginning in 2014 and elementary schools in 2016. All school personnel must complete a one- to two-hour course and repeat it every five years, under the new law. In addition, at least two school personnel must undergo a more intensive day-long training.
Reporters were barred from attending Tuesday’s bill-signing ceremony.