State Senator Linda Newell shows social work students her documentary about suicide prevention, misrepresentation of service animals bills

Joe Manely

woman speaks to crowd
Senator and filmmaker Linda Newell speaks to students and visitors about the process she goes through when trying to get a bill passed Monday. She visited Colorado State University’s campus with senator John Kefalas to show some of her work, educate students about Colorado’s political system and request a few interns to help her with future projects. (Brooke Buchan | Collegian)

Colorado State University social work students listened to State Senator Linda Newell discuss her journey to move bills for suicide prevention and misrepresentation of service animals through the legislative process at the State Capitol.

Newell gave a screening and held a question and answer session for her documentary, “The Last Bill,” on Monday in the Lory Student Center at an event hosted by Colorado State University’s School of Social Work. She was joined by State Senator John Kefalas. 

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Newell said she created the film in response to public misconceptions about the Colorado state Senate. Early on in the film, she mentioned how people would see her senator badge and assume that she was a member of the U.S. Congress. She intended for the documentary to be a form of civic education.

“Something’s got to be done. It’s time we take the government to the people,” Newell said. “I just wanted to make sure that we were able to get the education out there–so the people would know there’s a difference between a state Senate and the U.S. Senate.”

After the screening, Newell and Kefalas took audience questions about the film, the bills that were showcased and the state legislative process in general. The audience was primarily composed of social work students.

The film primarily focused on SB-147, a bill that would increase measures for suicide prevention in Colorado. The “zero suicide” bill is a response to high suicide rates in the state and gaps in data that show how over 30 percent of individuals are receiving mental health care at their time of death from suicide and 45 percent have seen their primary care physician within one month of their death.

Newell was the primary sponsor for the bill. It aimed to reduce suicide rates by providing training and strategies in a variety of health care systems.

The film documents the long process that Newell worked through to push the bill forward. After three months of a bipartisan effort, the bill passed. Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law in June 2016.

Newell considers the bill to be one of her biggest accomplishments. She said that the bill was difficult to move because she was in the minority party at the time. Her first 6 years were spent in the majority, which made her last 2 years a “way different experience.”

Kefalas also worked on SB-147 as a co-sponsor, and he also mentioned supporting the bill as one of his best accomplishments.

“This issue of suicide prevention is really important to me,” Kefalas said. “What we’re doing now is working out legislation that we’ll introduce in January that’s building on this work, to look at some of the gaps that still are out there with how do we move the dial in the right direction, as far as not having more suicides, but having less suicides.”

Moving into 2018 with elections on the horizon, including the gubernatorial election and all of Colorado’s seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Colorado state government looks to be a “feeding frenzy” according to Newell. However, she doubts there will be any drastic changes for the state senate.

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“I’m not sure a lot is going to happen because it usually is much slower during an election year but particularly with this election year being a gubernatorial…lots of in-fighting going on with primaries and all that stuff,” Newell said.

Collegian reporter Joe Manely can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @joemanely.