Lawmakers crossed the aisle and shared emotional embraces Monday morning, as they commemorated the enactment of a mental health services expansion bill named in memory of U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin’s late son, Tommy Raskin.
“We live in a state that cares about each and every young person out there and we don’t want to lose anybody else,” Raskin said. “And so, my family is just really happy that Tommy has been honored in this way.”
The Thomas Bloom Raskin Act, named after Raskin’s son who died by suicide on New Year’s Eve, will establish voluntary mental health check-ins from trained and accredited mental health professionals through the state’s 211 system.
The legislation will also connect callers with crisis services if needed.
The law will go into effect on July 1. Quinton Askew, president and CEO of 211 Maryland, said that anyone interested in the program for themselves or their loved ones can sign up early by texting “Health check” to 211631.
Raskin, standing in front of the State House where he used to serve as a Montgomery County senator, thanked Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) for his gesture in making the bill honoring his son’s legacy the first to be signed into law after the legislature adjourned.
“Governor Hogan, I’m moved and honored that this was the first bill that was signed this year, and I’m moved to think that we have a state that has worked together across party lines … to focus on emotional and mental health,” Raskin said.
Hogan said that he was “proud to sign” the legislation honoring the congressman’s son into law as the first bill of the year. He gave the pen he used to enact the bill to Raskin, who was unable to attend the bill signing ceremony.
Hogan thanked Raskin for “channeling [his] grief” to bring mental health awareness to the forefront.
“I know that countless lives will be saved because of the law that now bears your son’s name,” he said.
According to 211 Maryland’s Needs Dashboard, the hotline received 20,050 calls for mental health services and 10,991 for suicide and crisis prevention between Jan. 1, 2019, and March 31, 2021.
Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery), the bill’s Senate sponsor, said Monday that Tommy’s death was the impetus behind the bill’s drafting.
“I remember reading that we lost Tommy Raskin, and it shook my family to the core,” Zucker said. “I remember looking at my wife saying: ‘We’ve got to do something — We’ve got to help people.’”
The bill was amended to honor Tommy by name on the House floor by its cosponsor, Del. Bonnie L. Cullison (D-Montgomery). The chamber stood and applauded after the amendment’s adoption.
“We were so moved and inspired by the idea, we said ‘Of course, we would be honored to have you name it after Tommy,’” Raskin said Monday morning on behalf of his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, and family. “That would be a beautiful and enduring legacy to him to make Maryland state where, not only do people have somewhere to go if they’re in crisis, but where the state then continues to reach out to you.”
Cullison heralded Raskin as not just a politician, but as a neighbor, colleague and friend. She, like Zucker, said learning of Tommy’s death devastated her community in Montgomery County.
“Jamie and Sarah have told us that in his final communication to them, he asked them to ‘please look out for each other, look out for the animals and the global poor,’” Cullison said at the news conference. “I think this program fits that legacy well.”
Invoking Tommy’s words, Raskin said that he believes the law will help those who suffer as his son did.
“I was thinking about how Tommy used to say ‘It’s hard to be human,’” Raskin said, “…And this legislation makes it a little bit easier to be human in the state of Maryland because it lets all of our people know that the state is listening and we’re willing to invest the resources to help take care of people.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact Maryland’s crisis hotline by calling 2-1-1 and pressing option 1 or texting 898-211. In the case of a life-threatening emergency, call 911.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for those in crisis or those looking to help someone else: 1-800-273-8255. The Crisis Text Line offers emotional crisis support at 741741.