The first bill approved by the Maryland Senate this year will fund the state’s 988 suicide and crisis hotline.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Malcolm Augustine, a Prince George’s County Democrat, will require the governor to put $12 million for the hotline into the budget in 2025. Augustine’s bill attracted a bipartisan group of 13 senators as cosponsors.

Augustine lifted his phone to take a photo of the vote board as it lit up with green dots on Monday night. The vote was 46-0 without debate.

“Here’s the difference between the House and the Senate,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat. “We’ve got a third reader.” (”Third reader” is the legislative term for a final vote on a bill.)

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The 988 hotline went into operation in Maryland in summer 2022, two years after the federal government designated the number for that use. State lawmakers created a trust fund to pay for the hotline’s operations and required $5 million in funding for 2023 and $5.5 million in funding for 2024.

When the bill was given preliminary approval in the Senate last week, the significance of the measure was noted.

“I think it is fitting that this is our first bill,” said Sen. Guy Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee that reviewed the bill.

“We all know the significance of mental health and we all know that there are a lot of component parts to handling these mental health issues,” Guzzone said. “And one of the very first ones is making sure that people have a line to reach out to and that’s what this is about.”

Guzzone said the funding will help “stand up this system” to ensure it is effective.

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The entire Budget and Taxation Committee, Democrats and Republicans, signed on as cosponsors of the bill.

The Senate version of the bill now crosses over the the House of Delegates for consideration. Meanwhile, a companion bill, from Del. Ariana Kelly of Montgomery County and Del. Heather Bagnall of Anne Arundel County, is pending in the House with a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 7.

pamela.wood@thebaltimorebanner.com

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County. 

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