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Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act

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Location: Washington, DC


GARRETT LEE SMITH MEMORIAL ACT -- (House of Representatives - September 08, 2004)

Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the Senate bill (S. 2634) to amend the Public Health Service Act to support the planning, implementation, and evaluation of organized activities involving statewide youth suicide early intervention and prevention strategies, to provide funds for campus mental and behavioral health service centers, and for other purposes, as amended.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act. I extend sincere condolences to my colleague, friend, constituent and fellow Oregonian, Senator GORDON SMITH, sponsor of this act, and his family.

It was exactly 1 year ago today that the Smith family was changed forever when Garrett Lee Smith took his life. As the father of a son myself, my heart aches for GORDON and Sharon, and the Smith family remains in our prayers. After Garrett's death, the Smith family's selfless dedication to shining the public spotlight on the tragedy of youth suicide and saving other families from the devastation of suicide is truly inspiring.

Upon realizing that suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, Senator Smith identified gaps in our public health infrastructure and crafted a bill to assist States, localities, tribal communities and college campuses in establishing youth suicide prevention programs. These programs will include prevention screening, early intervention, management and education activities.

Suicide is an unspeakable tragedy. However, the provisions of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act encourage young people to speak up about suicide, importantly to seek assistance when they are feeling hopeless or depressed, and to make sure they have access to trained specialists to help them make sense of the emotions that are overwhelming them. It also provides families and friends of at-risk youth with information and resources to support these very fragile people.

There may be a misconception about this useful bill by some of my colleagues here in the House. Under no circumstances will this bill force parents to medicate their children as a condition of attending public school. In fact, it explicitly prohibits funds to be spent in such a way. Additionally, it does not allow schools to force children to attend school assemblies, undergo screenings for depression or receive treatment for depression without the written consent of a parent or guardian. It requires parental consent and involvement.

The bill requires that States and entities receiving funding under this grant program shall obtain prior written informed consent from the child's parent or legal guardian for assessment services, school-sponsored programs, and treatment involving medication related to the youth suicide conducted in elementary and secondary schools. So there is a very important provision for parents to be involved. Prior requirements do not apply if it is an emergency, as the chairman talked about.

This bill comes to the House floor as a result of delicate negotiation at the Member level and hard work at the staff level. I want to thank especially the gentleman from Texas (Chairman BARTON) and the subcommittee chairman, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Bilirakis), and the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown) and others for facilitating this bill's swift movement to the floor. All of these gentlemen were gracious and worked closely with Senator Smith to ensure that the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act would be considered by the House on this very day.

I encourage my colleagues to support the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act. In closing, I echo the words of Senator Smith, my constituent. "Suicide and attempts do not simply leave an impression on the individual's life, it leaves a deep impact on everyone who knows the person or a family member of that person. No family should experience the pain we have suffered and no child should suffer the challenges of mental illness alone."

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