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Eye on Boise: Idaho legislators take turns wearing Barbieri’s colorful necktie

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, wears a tie belonging to Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, in the Idaho House chamber on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, wears a tie belonging to Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, in the Idaho House chamber on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE – Fourth-term Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, has tried to carry on a tradition passed down to him by former Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, of wearing a different tie each day of the legislative session, with never a repeat.

That requires lots of ties, and Clark also passed down a passel of ’em to Barbieri, who said he has “a ton.”

Three weeks ago, Barbieri was wearing one of those ties, a colorful one, when Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, complimented him on it. “It was in the evening, and I took it off and gave it to him,” Barbieri said.

The next morning, House Speaker Scott Bedke took notice prior to the start of that day’s House session that Armstrong was wearing Barbieri’s tie. “Then the speaker called me from up there, and said, ‘Nice tie,’ ” Barbieri said. “I said, ‘I don’t have it anymore – I gave it to Armstrong.’ The next day, the speaker was wearing it.”

From there, the tie-sharing took off, with a different House member showing up wearing it each day. Among those who’ve modeled the tie in the House: Reps. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace; Tom Loertscher, R-Iona; Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee; and Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony. On the next-to-last day of the legislative session, Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, was wearing the tie, making a color statement with his bright, light-blue jacket.

Representatives continued the tie pass-around while Barbieri was out for a full week with the flu, in honor of their missing colleague.

“It was still here floating around,” Barbieri said. “The momentum was astounding.”

He said he never knew who would show up in the tie next. “I’m just flattered and delighted that we’ve had something fun floating through.”

Barbieri said he’s only worn the tie once per session since he’s had it, and Clark only wore it once per session for a decade prior. “It was worn more this session than it’s been worn in the last 20 years,” he said.

New suicide prevention training

All Idaho school personnel must be trained in suicide awareness and prevention, under legislation that Gov. Butch Otter and suicide-prevention advocates celebrated at a ceremony in the governor’s office last week.

The governor had earlier signed HB 634, the Jason Flatt Act, into law. Idaho is the 20th state to enact such legislation, which takes effect July 1. The law isn’t expected to cost the state any additional money since the training will be included in existing in-service training programs for teachers and other school employees, and will tap into readily available training programs.

“The Jason Flatt Act brings youth suicide prevention education to Idaho,” said Shannon Decker, executive director of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Coalition. “It’s been a long road and this is a crucial first step, but it’s only a first step. It’s going to take a lot more voices and words and people stepping up to make this really come to fruition in this state.”

Decker said numerous organizations in Idaho have come together to bring about this and other steps toward suicide prevention in the state, including “impactful legislators who’ve been persuasive in talking with their colleagues to help us bring this to the governor’s desk.”

The bill’s lead sponsor was Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Moscow. A half-dozen senators from both parties attended the ceremony in support of the bill, along with numerous suicide-prevention advocates.

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the crowd, “Thank you for all you have done in communities. … Up in my district, which is Coeur d’Alene, we just had a tragic loss of one of our school principals to this very problem. And no one knows the complications that drive someone to this decision. But we are concerned, because as an authority figure, his actions are translated to all of those students in our district. So we have to fight even harder now to explain to students how to deal with their life problems and give them the support that they need.”

Coeur d’Alene High School Principal Troy Schueller died March 21 of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“Suicide is everyone’s problem,” the governor said. “This is a great opportunity for us all to reflect on ourselves and reflect on the needs that those around us have, and we never know.”

Idaho had the eighth-highest suicide rate in the nation in 2016 – 57 percent higher than the national average. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Idahoans age 15-34 and for males up to age 44. In 2016, 351 Idahoans died from suicide, nearly one per day.

In recent years, Idaho has stepped up its response to the problem. In 2016, lawmakers created the state Office of Suicide Prevention with $1 million in funding, including state funding for the state’s 24/7 suicide prevention hotline. An array of groups committed to carrying out a coordinated statewide suicide prevention plan.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little said, “I will tell you from my experience as a legislator, awareness of this is much higher today than it was five years ago.”

Stewart Wilder is president of the Live Wilder Foundation, which is dedicated to preventing youth suicide. He lost his son to suicide at age 17.

“This is a very emotional day for me,” Wilder said. “This is a piece of legislation that really sets us on the right path moving forward really toward comprehensive suicide prevention in our state.”

“Every time we’re alerted to the loss of a child, I go back to our horrible night,” Wilder said. “Whatever we can do to keep another parent from feeling that kind of grief and the turmoil and the fallout that comes with it, it is something that is worth fighting for.”