Senate Finance Committee pushes 988 funding through despite opposition from Republicans

By: - May 9, 2023 4:28 pm

The 35-cent charge per line, per month would fund the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, support centers, and mobile crisis teams for people experiencing a behavioral health crisis or suicidal ideation.  (Getty Images)

Nevada is one of only five states that passed legislation to fund the 988 National Suicide Prevention programming, but a loophole in the law establishing that fee could significantly limit the amount of money the state would have to build out the crisis care system.

The Senate Finance Committee last week passed Senate Bill 237, which would close a loophole that allows telecommunication companies to collect the 988 fee only on landlines and not cell phones.. 

The 35-cent charge per line, per month would fund the 988 system, including the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, support centers, and mobile crisis teams for people experiencing a behavioral health crisis or suicidal ideation.  

The amended SB 237 is expected to generate $15 million in funding per year versus the current law with the loophole, which would only generate $1.5 million, according to the Nevada Department of Behavioral Health and Human Services.

Telecommunications companies have not yet started charging the fee.

Despite the bill’s potential to fulfill Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo’s budget recommendation for 988, Republican state Sens. Heidi Seevers Gansert and Pete Goicoechea voted against moving the bill out of Senate Finance.  State Sen. Robin Titus, the committee’s other Republican, was excused from the meeting. 

Seevers Gansert said she couldn’t support the bill because she was unclear if the funds collected through this fee authorized under the federal National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, which allows states to enact new telecommunication fees to help support 988 operations, can be used for buildings like crisis stabilization centers and not just the hotline services.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro countered, saying that the federal government specifies that state legislators have the authority to determine how the fee is used to further build the continuum of care. 

The bill will need to pass the full Senate with two-thirds support because it increases fee revenue. That means it would need the support of at least one Republican.

The 2021 bill that established the 988 fee passed with bipartisan support.

If  SB 237 fails to pass this legislative session, Nevada, which continues to rank at the bottom of all states in access to care and high prevalence of mental illness, would receive significantly less money and scale back the 988 crisis intervention services, according to the Legislative Counsel Bureau analysis division. 

The transition to 988, which is less than a year old, is part of a larger initiative that aims to build out crisis mobile outreach teams and a more robust system of treatment options, including a crisis stabilization center where behavioral and mental health care is coordinated. The Crisis Response team was funded through one-time federal funds, but the state funding allows the programming to continue to build out these services. 

SB 237 clarifies that the surcharge can be used to establish and operate crisis stabilization centers that will be a part of the wider 988 infrastructure in the state. 

Delays in implementing the funding that the original bill approved have hampered the call answer rates in the state even as Nevada encountered other barriers, including a shortage of staffers fluent in languages and in cultural competency for the AAPI community, building mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization centers from the ground up, a transient population, and a lack of coordinated behavioral health services in place beforehand.

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Camalot Todd
Camalot Todd

An award-winning, investigative and enterprise reporter, Camalot Todd has over seven years experience in print, digital, radio and TV journalism.