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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. GARRETT of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

There is probably no more serious topic that we could be discussing this evening than we are right now when we are discussing suicide, especially when we are discussing suicide of young people. It is a serious topic, and it is an emotional topic.

Earlier today, Mr. Speaker, I heard someone say in the Chamber that this House, as we move along and make changes, we do not always make large changes or great changes at one time; we may only be making changes incrementally. And my response to that was I am all in favor of incrementally moving the agenda along, just so long as we are moving it in the right direction and not in the wrong direction, a harmful direction, or a hurtful direction. I want to be moving the agenda along in a direction that is guided by facts and thought and planning and not by emotion.

We just heard that this bill is moving along in an expedited fashion, and that is true. We are here tonight on a bill, on a piece of legislation, spending $82 million that would create two new Federal programs that never existed before, a new technical center that will deal with this issue as well; and yet there has never been an opportunity for input, discussion, a vote, or consideration in a committee. This bill has never gone in this House to a committee for a hearing, for a complete markup in a formal manner.

If you are a parent and you have thoughts on this topic, you are concerned about your children or other children in your community, you have not had the opportunity to have your say, to have your feelings, to have your thoughts heard in a committee on this subject. If you are an expert in this field, a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health association or the like, and you have thoughts about what would be best for our children or what would be harmful to our children, you too have not had the opportunity to have your thoughts or your opinions heard in a formal committee manner.

So it is correct when we hear that this legislation is moving in an expedited format, without the committee process and already to the floor.

Now, before this bill came up, we were talking about another topic, and I heard a lot of talk about the deficit and what grave financial straits we are in. I hope they continue with those feelings when we consider a bill that is $82 million in the making for the first 3 years, and how much after that no one knows.

There was an article today in National Review that addresses this piece of legislation. It says, "Occasionally a bill hits Capitol Hill over which there is remarkably little debate. This bill is an extreme example of that. Actually, according to news reports, there is no debating the bill, which provides additional Federal funding for suicide prevention programs in U.S. schools." It goes on, "Well, of course if you are against suicide, you are for the bill; right?"

Well, we really do not know. I am certainly against suicide. Everyone in this House is against suicide. But are we all for the bill? Are parents all for the bill? Are the experts all for the bill? The article goes on to point out that, "No, the experts are not all for the bill." The Journal of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have reported on this topic of suicide prevention programs, such as this bill addresses, and they reported, "Suicide awareness programs in schools have not been shown to be effective either in reducing suicidal behavior or in increasing help-seeking behavior. Most kids who take their own lives are mentally ill. They need help, help that a school suicide prevention program is not going to provide them."

"For some of the children, these new federally funded programs," as it says in the article, "would reach awareness, putting ideas in their already normally confused adolescent heads." Conclusion: "Such programs," as we are talking about tonight, "could actually be harmful."

Let me go back to the issue of family and the like. We have to ask: Is this yet again another encroachment on the family, on the parent-child relationship, one in which the Federal Government should at least ask for input and thought before we start creating new Federal programs on this level?

In the end, are these programs, we should be asking ourselves, more harmful than helpful? The experts seem to indicate more harmful. Another expert, David Shaffer, M.D., Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, talking on the subject and doing research at Columbia University supported by grants for the Centers for Disease Control, suggests that "case findings that involve giving lessons or lectures about suicide either to encourage suicidal students to identify themselves or to teach other students or teachers how to identify the suicidal teenager is not effective, and in some instances may undermine protective attitudes about suicide."

Furthermore, from Dr. Shaffer and others, "self-identified attempters were less likely to approve of these programs, and there was little evidence that the programs were successful in influencing their views. There was some evidence that previous attempters were more upset by the programs than nonattempters were."

Again, the experts are showing that these programs that we are now spending money on may be more harmful than good.

There was a case several years ago in Michigan where a second grade boy killed himself in the spring of the year, the day after watching a film in a suicide prevention class such as what we are talking about today. People who knew the young boy said that he was a happy child who had just been accepted into the school's gifted and talented program, and he was not depressed at all at the time of his death. Many think that he was merely mimicking what he saw in the movie in the suicide prevention program and had no intention to die. In the movie, the boy who tries to hang himself to commit suicide is rescued by his friends. In real life, that did not occur, and the 8-year-old boy, having attended a suicide prevention program, killed himself.

As a parent, one also has to ask, where does the time come to do all these things in our schools? We already ask of our teachers so much, to teach all the curriculum already. Now we are adding an additional burden on the schools as well. I have talked to parents who have had their kids in public schools and have taken them out and either put them into private schools, Catholic schools, parochial schools, or home schooling. When I ask them why they do it, they say, because they realize the public schools are no longer focused on what they are supposed to be focusing on, and that is educating their kids. Instead, they are involved in so much other social programming, such as this.

So we have to ask ourselves this question as well: Does this program address the needs of our schools as being able to fulfill their obligation to teach our kids?

Next, we have to ask the question: Is this enough money, $82 million? Now, to me, that sounds like a lot of money; but if we are talking across the entire country for a 3-year period of time, I hazard a guess that next year and the year after that that people will be coming back and saying this was just a drop in the bucket and that we will have to spend even more.

I figured it out just briefly in my head sitting over there earlier. This would provide my county in New Jersey maybe one new counselor, if it was spread evenly across the country. One counselor for my entire county. What about all the schools in that county? Will they not be looking for assistance as well, all the other services in the county? $82 million is not going to go that far.

Now, it is set up as a 3-year program. In actuality, the bill that I am looking at talks about how much money we spend for the first 3 years; but if we look at the fine print, it details $7 million one year, $16 million the next year, and $25 million the next year. That is 3 years. But thereafter it says "and such sums as may be necessary for each of the fiscal years 2008 and 2009." So, in reality, it is saying we know how much it is going to cost for the first 3 years, but after that it is anybody's question, as people come back asking for more.

In the end, suicide is an emotional topic. The legislation we are dealing with today is an emotional topic. It is one that deserves our thoughtful time, it is one that deserves input from parents and experts alike, and so, therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would recommend to vote against this bill, or, better yet, to allow this bill to go back to committee for further consideration.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Iowa (Mr. King).

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Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute to respond.

Many times in this House we do things for symbolic purposes, and I am not suggesting that this legislation is being done for symbolic purposes, but I do have to raise the question, as I did earlier, as to just what extent this bill may be successful if everything goes right.

As I indicated before, we are spending at $82 million. That translates into around the addition of one new guidance counselor in every county in my State. So we have to question really are we providing any new services to the majority of kids, or are we just lifting up hopes and also the expectations of future calls for greater spending on these programs?

As to the aspect of additional harm that may come from this, that is the very nature of the question that I raise here. We have yet to hear of any testimony in this body as to what is the nature of the benefits of this, from academic institutions, parents or otherwise, how this may benefit the students. Anecdotally we may have some, but I would think before we get into such a critical area as dealing with the mental state of our kids that we would want to have that information on hand.

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Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Again I have to say it, the topic that we are dealing with is an extremely emotional one; and I take nothing away from what the sponsors are attempting to do with this legislation. And I take nothing away from the families that have suffered from the pains and arrows of going through this. All I say is that the best method of addressing this issue was perhaps, not perhaps, absolutely not followed in this procedure, that the parents in our communities have the right to have their say to make sure that we have the best system of taking care of their kids; that the experts, the doctors, the academies, have the right to have their say as to what are the best procedures as far as addressing the issue of suicide in schools. Finally, it ultimately falls upon our families and our parents to make sure that we are bringing our kids up in the correct manner.

This legislation does not address that at all. This legislation simply expands once again the size and the scope of the Federal Government into an area where we have not heard any testimony tonight and never had the opportunity to hear testimony in the past to say whether this system will do more harm than good.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would suggest a "no" on this bill.

Mr. Speaker, I yield the balance of my time to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Barton).

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Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.

The yeas and nays were ordered.

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