Over the past two weeks, Gov. Chris Sununu has signed three important pieces of legislation that I sponsored. I appreciate very much the leadership of the governor, as well the bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats in crafting these bills.
The first piece of legislation Sununu signed is SB 282, which requires New Hampshire schools to provide suicide awareness training to all school staff to better recognize students that are distressed and contemplating suicide.
Ken Norton, the director of National Alliance on Mental Illness NH, proposed the bill and asked me to sponsor it. When he testified, he cited the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death of people between the ages of 15-34. Norton also stated that 16 percent of high school students had contemplated suicide, while 6 percent had actually attempted it — which is indeed alarming. He also testified that very few schools actually provide training for staff about students contemplating suicide.
Many other people testified at the hearing on SB 282, including Shamera Simpson of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention NH, who said the legislation would help reduce the stigma around mental health and suicide. A number of other people came forward to testify about family members or even personal experiences. Their testimony was profound and compelling.
SB 282 calls for every public school to develop a policy that trains school staff and volunteers about suicide risk factors, warning signs and responses for at risk students. The bill also calls for educating students about the same risk factors and warning signs. The legislation calls for schools to designate a point of contact person when a student may be at an elevated risk of suicide.
There was overwhelming support for this legislation as it passed the Senate 24-0 and passed the House on a voice vote. With the governor’s signature, by next spring schools should have suicide training plans in place.
The second piece of legislation signed by Sununu that I sponsored is SB 274, which expands a home visitation program to include all Medicaid-eligible expectant mothers. Previously, the program only had covered mothers who were under 21 and expecting their first baby. This program is intended to help mothers cope with the many challenges of being pregnant and raising a baby, and has proven to be very successful. Previous restrictions on age and first child only undermined the effectiveness of the program, which advocates believe more than pays for itself in a healthier Medicaid population.
I want to give special thanks to Shelley Rondeau, who is the pediatric nurse coordinator for Central New Hampshire VNA, for her strong testimony about the value of this program. Additionally, Gina Belanger of the Family Resource Center testified that expansion of this program is important in the effort to solve the substance abuse and mental health crisis. Patricia Tilley of the Department of Health and Human Services Department testified that the additional costs would be minimal as federal-state reimbursement would be at a 90 percent- to-10-percent ratio rather than the current 50/50 ratio. SB 274 passed 24-0 in the Senate and on a voice vote in the House.
The third bill signed by the governor was part of my animal cruelty legislation (SB 77) that was folded into HB 459. In the wake of the Great Dane case in Wolfeboro and several other very high-profile animal cruelty cases, I have worked with many people across New Hampshire to upgrade our laws. This legislation will provide for better supervision of large-scale animal breeders and better protect taxpayers from the cost of care of animals when authorities remove them from owners accused of cruelty or mistreatment. Had the Humane Society of New Hampshire not stepped up to assist Wolfeboro, property taxpayers would have been on the hook for $2.6 million of costs associated with the yearlong care of the Great Danes while the court case unfolded. The defendant was found guilty both in the initial trial and subsequent appeal.
Despite the spate of animal cruelty cases, passage of upgrades to our laws has proven extremely difficult as a similar bill of mine in 2018 did not pass. With cruelty cases, unfortunately, continuing to occur, the 2019 legislative efforts have improved. I want to thank local Reps. William Marsh (R-Brookfield), Edie DesMarais (D-Wolfeboro) and John MacDonald (R-Wolfeboro) for their strong support. I am also extremely grateful for the support and compelling testimony of Wolfeboro Police Chief Dean Rondeau and Tuftonboro Police Chief Andy Shagoury. Sununu’s steadfast support was also critical as was that of Rep. Kathy Rogers (D-Concord).
The recently signed legislation allows a court to restrict animal ownership for people convicted of a misdemeanor cruelty offense. The legislation also expedites the court process to minimize the time an animal must be held during the trial of someone accused of cruelty. These reasonable reforms are finally now law. My other piece of 2019 legislation dealing with inspections of pet vendors has been added to the budget. I fully expect that when the non-related budget items are resolved this legislation will also become law.
At a time when Washington, D.C., is dysfunctional to most Americans, it is encouraging that despite significant differences that we have politically in Concord, we are nevertheless able to work together on many different issues. I want to again thank my colleagues for their bipartisan support on these issues.
As always, please contact me with your thoughts.
Jeb Bradley is the Republican state senator from Wolfeboro.