By Daniel Stefanski |
A bill to help Arizona young adults find necessary help is slowly moving through the state legislature, and its sponsor is doing everything he can to push it across the finish line.
HB 2635, sponsored by Representative Travis Grantham, “authorizes a school district governing board to develop or purchase a digital application to assist with threat assessments,” according to the overview provided by the Arizona House. The digital application would allow “students to report safety issues and receive anonymous clinical support that is available at all times,” and provide “resources to students and parents for mental health, bullying and substance misuse issues.”
In an exclusive statement to AZ Free News about why he introduced the bill, Grantham said: “We have a teen mental health problem, a teen suicide problem, and a drug addiction problem amongst our youth. We can’t legislate a good home life or morality but we can try to provide resources and access to resources that can prevent this from taking countless lives.”
In February, HB 2635 passed both the House Education and Rules Committee without a single vote in opposition. House Speaker Ben Toma is the only legislator listed as a co-sponsor.
Yet even with a broad coalition of support through the committee process, there are concerns about this legislation that are slowing its clearance from the full House. Some grassroots groups have registered their concerns about Representative Grantham’s legislation, urging other members to vote against his bill. The Arizona Women of Action wrote, “Contact reps and respectfully demand they vote NO on HB2635. The problem is computer programs trace kids and load info about them without their knowledge. The info can then be synchronized with the child’s phone and computer. Stop data mining and manipulating kids.”
The critique of Grantham’s bill caused him to introduce a floor amendment to his original proposal, changing the focus of the digital application to assistance with “suicide prevention and substance misuse.” The amendment also removed “the requirement that the digital application allow students to report safety issues and receive anonymous clinical support,” and it required “the digital application to provide suicide prevention and substance misuse resources to parents and, subject to parental consent, students.”
Representative Grantham explained that his amendment “put guard rails on the current bill,” and told AZ Free News that “many of his colleagues were concerned that the legislation was too broad and could invite mental health counseling that became even more damaging than the problem itself.” He hopes that this amendment is the catalyst that springs the legislation from his chamber and into the next.
The feedback for HB 2635 hasn’t been all negative. As the bill evolved through committees, Gina Godbehere Thomas tweeted, “Proud to support HB2635 and advocate on behalf of the Teen Mental Health Ad-Hoc Committee. This Bill, which increases access to Mental Health Treatment through a 24/7 app will save lives and make our community safer. Thank you to all those supporting this important first step.”
Katey McPherson, a school digital wellness consultant, also wrote back in February: “The two places my heart lives. Michigan and Arizona. MSU my Alma Mater. They’ve both built me in so many ways. My nephew spent 3 hours in a shelter in place along with 49,999 students. When will it stop? I am behind HB2635 in an effort to be a part of the change. Please join me.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.