Public school teachers would undergo more suicide prevention education under a proposal from a bipartisan group of New Jersey lawmakers.
An Assembly committee approved the measure late last year while Republican state Sen. Diane Allen introduced a similar bill in the Senate this month.
The bill requires public school teachers and staff to receive two hours of suicide prevention training from a licensed health care professional every year, up from the current requirement of two hours over five years.
Democratic Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt said she and her colleagues are pursuing the change now because of the increased use of technology by students and the rise of bullying over text messages that could contribute to suicides.
The requirement that teachers undergo suicide prevention education reaches back to 2005 legislation that established the current requirement. Gov. Richard Codey signed the bill into law in 2006, making New Jersey the first state in the country to enact such a requirement.
New Jersey has a youth suicide rate of about 5 per 100,000 people, compared with nearly 8 per 100,000 nationally in 2012, the most recently available statistics from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. The report defines youth as people from ages 10 to 24.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in New Jersey. From 2011 to 2013, 232 people in that age group committed suicides, according to the department.
Since the 2006 law went into effect, the youth suicide rate in New Jersey dipped to under 4 suicides per 100,000 people twice. It also bounced above 5 in 2010-2011, the statistics show.
"It's not about statistics," Lampitt said, before adding that if one life is saved because of the requirement, then it is worth it
The 2006 legislation was partially the result of advocates like Scott Fritz, who co-founded the New Jersey-based Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide after losing his child to suicide.
Fritz testified in favor of the new measure, but said he wants to see some changes to the language in the bill before it passes the Legislature. Specifically, he wants school bus drivers and cafeteria workers included under the training requirement.
Teachers groups have voiced concerns over the legislation. New Jersey Education Association director Marybeth Beichert testified in October before the Assembly that teachers are already subject to 20 hours of professional development yearly, leaving less time for teachers to focus on instruction, she said.
"When will teachers have the time to collaborate on instruction that will improve student learning?" she asked.
Lawmakers view the increased requirement as another tool in combatting suicide, however.
"Effective suicide prevention among teens requires a full court press from the community," said Democratic Assemblyman and co-sponsor Troy Singleton in a statement.