Brown’s “Youth Empowered to Speak-up” bill receives Senate hearing

Measure would create confidential youth-safety and well-being tip line 

Today the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee’s Behavioral Health Subcommittee held a hearing on Sen. Sharon Brown’s bill to implement the Youth Empowered to Speak-up (YES) program statewide. Senate Bill 5327 would create a tip line and mobile app to allow students to confidentially report potential self-harm or criminal activities directed at schools, students or school employees.

“This measure is providing another tool in the box to help our most vulnerable youth,” said Brown, R-Kennewick. “It is the culmination of efforts that have been going on over two years among various stakeholders.

“In preparing this bill, we have had the opportunity to look at the programs being utilized by other states. We’ve looked at what Michigan is doing, what Connecticut is doing, what Oregon is doing. What we’ve realized from reaching out to other states is that they are eager to help us develop our own tip line. So we have been able to glean the best from what all these other states have done.”

Brown pointed out that many of the states she contacted have had a tip line in place for years and have already received reports back to their legislatures.

“Many of these reports detail how many lives they have actually saved by having the tip line app,” Brown added.

She also noted that the inclusion of an app will make the program more useful for teens and expressed her hope that young people will be instrumental in developing Washington’s version of the mobile application.

Under SB 5327, the state Attorney General’s office would be responsible for receiving and responding to tips from the public regarding risks or potential risks to the safety or well-being of youth. Risks to safety or well-being may include, but are not limited to, harm or threats of harm to self or others, sexual abuse, assault, rape, bullying or cyberbullying, substance use, and criminal acts.

The YES program would provide a path for young people to make reports directly to either local law enforcement or mental health officials. Hotline personnel would be trained to determine appropriate responses in terms of crisis management and community resources for people experiencing mental illness or emotional disturbance.

Testifying in support of the bill, Kirk Williamson with the Benton-Franklin Community Health Alliance discussed why Brown’s bill is so critical.

“The confidential tip line movement began in Colorado, right after the school shooting at Columbine,” said Williamson. “They found a broad range of issues that face our young people who needed a voice, and a confidential voice was really important.”

Williamson pointed out that the national tip line call reported that across the board, call volumes are down during the pandemic and school closures, but the severity of those calls is way up.

SB 5327, which also received support from the Washington State Parent Teacher Association, is scheduled to receive a vote by the subcommittee on Feb. 5.

Click here to view the full hearing on TVW.

Click here to watch a video of Sen. Brown discussing the bill with Williamson and youth suicide prevention activist Connor Mertens of Kennewick, who originally brought the idea for the tip line to Brown’s attention.