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Congress Passes Major Suicide Prevention Legislation, Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Cleared for President’s Signature; House Kills Effort to Block Mental Health Screening

On September 9, both the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation to support state and local suicide prevention programs.  The legislation, known as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (S 2634) was approved by the House 352-64 and later cleared the Senate by unanimous consent.  President Bush has pledged to sign the bill into law.

S 2634 is named in honor of the late son of Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR).  Immediately after House passage, Senator Smith addressed NAMI’s 25th annual convention in Washington.  In moving words, he spoke of his son’s memory and his family’s dedication to promoting suicide prevention and treatment for mental illness.  Senator Smith’s wife also attended the NAMI convention and met with the growing network of NAMI affiliates that are being formed on college campuses across the country.

S 2634 authorizes $82 million over the next 3 years to support state development of comprehensive youth suicide prevention and early intervention strategies.   It also authorizes a new federal Suicide Prevention Resource Center to develop model early intervention programs.  Finally, S 2634 also authorizes new assistance to colleges and universities to support on campus mental health services.   

It is important to note that S 2634 is an authorization bill and that Congress must follow through actually appropriate funding for the programs and activities authorized the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act.   NAMI members are strongly encouraged to contact their members and Congress and urge them to support appropriations for suicide prevention activities authorized S 2634 in FY 2005.  

House Kills Effort to Cut Off Mental Health Screening

On September 9, the House defeated an effort to cut off all federal funding for state and local mental health screening programs.   The overwhelming bipartisan vote was 95-315 as part of an amendment to the FY 2005 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill (HR 5006). 

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) offered the amendment to express opposition to what he termed "federally mandated universal mental health screening."   In fact, no such program exists at SAMHSA.  At the same time, SAMHSA – as part of recommendations in President Bush’s White House Mental Health Commission report from 2003 – is moving forward to support development and replication of evidence-based screening tools that can be used in juvenile justice facilities and schools.  NAMI supports these activities at SAMHSA.  These efforts would have been cut off under the Paul Amendment. 

After defeating the Paul Amendment, the House went on to clear HR 5006 by a 388-13 margin.   HR 5006 includes FY 2005 funding for both SAMHSA and the National Institute Mental Health (NIMH).  Under the bill, NIMH funding is increased to $1.421 billion (a $38.8 million increase over current year funding).  This is the same amount requested by President Bush.  HR 5006 also includes $20 million in new funding for the Bush Administration’s “Mental Health Transformation Initiative” – state incentive planning grants to support the findings and goals in the 2003 White House Mental Health Commission report. 

The Senate has yet to begin work on its version of the FY 2005 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill and it is unlikely to pass the bill before its expected pre-election adjournment on October 8.  It is expected that the bill will not be completed until November, and will likely end up being part of a year-end "omnibus" spending bill.

View details on the FY 2005 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill.