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PIERRE | Facing what they call a “public-health crisis,” South Dakota lawmakers on Monday took steps to make mental-health care more accessible throughout the state.

The Legislature’s Access to Mental Health Services Committee voted unanimously to recommend two mental-health accessibility bills to the Legislature come the start of the session in January.

The first bill would expand funding for the state’s 211 mental-health hotline, which helps to connect callers to mental-health resources.

South Dakota now has a 211 line in place, however, it only serves 17 of the state’s 66 counties. Pennington County is among the counties with the service.

Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, who chairs the interim committee, said expanding 211 service is “an important step” to curb suicide rates in the state and could provide avenues to help those suffering from domestic abuse or child maltreatment in all of South Dakota.

According to South Dakota Suicide Prevention, suicide was the ninth-leading cause of death in the state in 2017 and the second-leading cause of death for youth and young adults. Nationally, deaths by suicide have increased approximately 25 percent between 1999 and 2016. In South Dakota, suicides increased in the same time frame by over 44 percent, according to data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The current 211 system costs approximately $500,000 annually. To increase its reach to all of the state is expected to take another $300,000.

Committee members also voted unanimously to recommend a bill to the Legislature that would establish five task forces to study mental-health care through 2019. Implementation of the task forces is estimated to cost approximately $95,000.

The task forces would study options to localize mental-health treatment across the state and develop day-treatment options, use telemedicine for mental-health treatment and counseling, redefine nursing-home bed capacities for patients with illnesses like Alzheimer's and dementia, and increase capacity for transitional housing.

Committee members also discussed a bill that would revise provisions for emergency involuntary commitments but decided against voting to recommend the bill to the Legislature. Members said they felt it was rushed and that they wanted more time to make adjustments.

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