Rick Bowmer
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, looks on during news conference Wednesday, May 2, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Hatch, who is retiring, is looking to cement his legacy after more than 40 years in Washington as he unveils plans for a think tank and library bearing his name in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The U.S. Senate passed a bill last November that would direct the Federal Communications Commission to set up a nationwide, easy-to-remember, three-digit emergency hotline for suicide prevention.

It is inexcusable that the House has dawdled this long in considering it and has yet to bring it to the floor.

In the intervening months, such a hotline may have helped untold numbers of people who have succumbed to dark thoughts and despair.

The current suicide hotline, 1-800-273-8255, is long and difficult to remember. It is reminiscent of the days, a half-century or so ago, when people could access local police departments only by calling similar long numbers. Many people kept those numbers posted somewhere handy. Others would rely on calling operators in times of emergency and asking to be connected to the police.

The advent of a nationwide 911 system ended all that, providing an easy-to-remember solution that now has become a part of the American culture.

Because suicide is so difficult to confront, we doubt many people have the current hotline number posted in a handy place. A universal three-digit number would be easy to remember, just as it would raise awareness of the problem, perhaps further saving lives.

In a stirring speech that caught the attention of LGBT advocates, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a co-sponsor, urged the House to fast-track the bill.

"No one should ever feel less because of their gender identity or sexual orientation," Hatch said, noting the prevalence of suicide among LGBT youths. He also decried a growing lack of civility in society. "Whether in person or online, we can be softer in our language, kinder in our actions and stronger in our love.”

That’s sound advice, especially in Washington, where commonsense measures such as these can get mired in endless political maneuvers. This is one bill that deserves fast action for reasons of compassion.

Suicide is a growing problem nationwide. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide rates are up in every state but Nevada, and Nevada’s rate already was higher than the national average.

In 25 states, rates were up 30 percent from 1999 to 2016, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Utah’s rate was the fifth worst in the country, according to the report.

5 comments on this story

The establishment of a three-digit hotline should be neither controversial nor difficult. The House has no excuse for not moving faster.

The bill, whose House sponsor is Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, finally passed through the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Wednesday. It ought to be moved to the floor immediately and quickly sent to the president’s desk for his signature.

For those in crisis or those helping someone else, the suicide prevention lifeline is available at all hours by calling 1-800-273-TALK.