A bill that would require an Arkansas suicide prevention hotline to employ people who have experience working with veterans was passed by a state Senate committee Wednesday.
Under Senate Bill 27, the hotline, which is maintained by the Arkansas Department of Health, "shall ensure that the Suicide Prevention Hotline employs individuals who have experience working with veterans or are veterans."
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, is the bill’s sponsor and spoke to members of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee about why he feels it’s necessary.
"Unfortunately, some of the statistic we have shows that Arkansas is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to suicide rates. [It] makes sense because we have such a high veterans population that that would be one of the cases. But this is the first of many different steps that I’m trying to take to reduce that number," Garner said.
This is the first of two bills that Garner said he will introduce addressing the topic. The second would fund two new positions at the hotline for those who have experience with veterans.
Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, spoke in favor of the bill and thanked Garner for bringing it to the committee.
"It is difficult for a veteran who has been in combat to talk with someone about his specific issues… if [suicide prevention counselors] cannot relate to his combat that he’s been in, and this will help," Wallace said.
There was no opposition to the bill which now moves to the Senate floor.
Earlier in the day, the Senate approved two bills which will advance to the Arkansas House. One bill would establish a permit for an excursion train to sell and serve alcoholic beverages while aboard.
Another bill would allow retail liquor permit holders to deliver alcohol directly to consumers. Currently, such action is allowed under emergency rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. If approved, this would make such policies permanent. The bill does not apply to third party entities such as grocery stores.
Due to the inauguration of President Joe Biden Wednesday, the Arkansas House did not meet. Members will convene on Thursday.