Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lt. Governor to testify on measure to help public safety personnel and their families cope with stress from job

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen will testify at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27 before the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee on a measure to help to people working in public safety who may be suffering personally from what they encounter on the job.

The bill, SB 5131, is executive request legislation from the lieutenant governor, who has been working for the past several months with members of the public safety community on establishing the program, called “Safe Call Now.”

Open to law enforcement, firefighters, and correctional officers statewide, the program offers confidential assistance aimed at reducing suicide and substance abuse. It will include a 24-hour toll-free help number and a Web site to connect troubled officers to counselors, mental health specialists, law enforcement personnel, support staff and other experts who can both coach them and provide additional resources for treatment and help. The program also assists their family members.

“Within public safety are some of the toughest, most stressful occupations you can find. People who choose this line of work are extremely dedicated and committed, so much so that too often their personal lives suffer because of what happens on the job,” said Lt. Gov. Owen, who serves as board chair for the new organization.

Owen said while Safe Call Now is already established, the legislation further supports the program by providing direction to the Criminal Justice Training Commission to train law enforcement and correctional officers to recognize personal crises and seek assistance before problems escalate. Secondly, the bill provides for confidentiality for crisis referral services to give public safety employees the confidence that they can seek assistance for personal difficulties without jeopardizing their careers.

The legislation is being sponsored by Senators Jerome Delvin, Jim Hargrove, Dale Brandland and Debbie Regala. The committee, chaired by Sen. Hargrove, will meet in Hearing Room 1 of the John Cherberg Building on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.

HB 1194 is the companion bill in the House and is sponsored there by Reps. Al O'Brien, Mark Ericks, Brad Klippert, Christopher Hurst, Timm Ormsby, Tami Green, Troy Kelley and Phyllis Kenney.

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