BIPARTISAN MENTAL HEALTH BILL
The biggest news out of the General Assembly so far is our House bipartisan mental health bill, HB 1013. I am proud Speaker Ralston asked me, along with Rep. Todd Jones (R- HD 25) to carry the bill. Miles to go, but I am hopeful we can bring relief to many suffering Georgians. Photo credit: Olivia Buckner

HB 1013 is the product of work by the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission, chaired by former Representative Kevin Tanner, and of the continued work of Commission specialty subcommittees. I serve on the Commission, specifically on the Workforce Development subcommittee, and I have been working on the bill since last May. The bill is supported by Speaker Ralston and perhaps most importantly by commitments for funding.

The legislative process is dynamic because the bill is complicated and represents change, which is always a challenge. I am optimistic but also know there will be opposition. Members of the General Assembly know that deaths from suicide and substance abuse are at record levels, our hospital ERs are populated with mentally ill people in crisis, and there are too few available providers of services. Change is essential.

Highlights:

  • Requires public and private insurers to treat mental and physical health with parity, including for infants, children, adolescents, and adults.

  • Creates a unified review process and procedures for complaints alleging non-compliance.

  • Requires insurers to provide coverage for mental health and substance use disorders.

  • Moves Medicaid appeals from the Office of State Administrative Hearings to the Department of Community Health.

  • Supports workforce development by
  • authorizing "service cancellable" loans to mental health and substance abuse professionals
  • establishing a behavioral health care workforce database

  • Authorizes the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to establish and administer grants for Assisted Outpatient Treatment programs and to create a statewide database and an advisory council.

  • Changes some definitions and wording relating to involuntary commitment for mental health.

  • Authorizes grants and other supports to accountability courts for mental health services.

  • Establishes initiatives to minimize incarceration of mentally ill persons.

  • Clarifies that Community Service Boards provide mental health, developmental disability and addictive disease services to children.

  • Establishes a Department of Community Health task force to evaluate several Medicaid provisions -- including expansion of postpartum Medicaid coverage from 6 months to 12 months.

  • Requires the Insurance Commissioner to collect data and institute mental health parity compliance consistent with federal law and new state directives.

The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Health and Human Services. Stay tuned--I will continue to report on developments throughout the Session.
BUDGET HEAVY LIFTING BEGINS
I serve on the Appropriations Committee, here meeting in Room 341 at the Capitol last week. Photo Credit: Capitol Media Office
The Appropriations Committee convened and heard from the Governor, the state economist, and the head of each state department. Here are the primary takeaways:

Surplus- We have an unprecedented state reserve of over $3 billion (more than I have ever seen in my long legislative career), due to record tax collections and to money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, a good portion of which has yet to be distributed. The Governor proposes to refund $1.6 billion of that $3 billion to taxpayers, with $250 to single tax filers and $500 to those filing jointly. Is this the best use of that money? See my poll below.

Two noteworthy items in Governor Kemp's $30 billion proposed budget: it gives teachers $2000 to add to the $3000 pay increase previously awarded and raises all other state employee pay by $5000.

Retention- State agencies have had turnover rates as high as 90% at the Department of Juvenile Justice and 49% at the Department of Corrections in the last year. Will the promised pay increases stop this exodus? The Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Resources, on which I sit, will be looking at the health care workforce.

Follow the money- I am still following the Governor's distribution of the American Rescue Plan Act funding. There have been two rounds of grant making so far and distributions are not fully known. Why is this taking so long and where did the money go? This additional money, estimated to be over $1.5 billion, is not currently in the Governor's budget--where will it go? There is a dual process ongoing for spending available Covid money that is not totally clear to me.

Subcommittees in the House and Senate will be meeting in the next two weeks to drill down on the agency budget proposals.

Reminder: You can always watch the Floor sessions and often watch hearings, including budget meetings, live streamed from the Capitol. Go HERE and click on the calendar item you want to see. The House Media Services Office also has archived videos, which you can find HERE.
POLL: WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Should $1.6B of $3B in state surplus be refunded to taxpayers ($250 single/$500 joint)?
Yes
No
Yes, but not that much money
No, it should be used for other human services needs





DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY LEGISLATION
Development Authority Legislation

I have filed two bills to address problems that inhibit fairness and transparency in annexations and development projects.

HB 923 addresses self-dealing by development authority directors by capping the per diem allowance available to directors of certain development authorities in larger population centers. You will recall the recent investigation into the eye-popping allowances certain directors at the Development Authority of Fulton County paid to themselves.

My other bill, HB 924, is intended to allow other stakeholders to receive notice and participate in annexation processes and bond validation hearings. As it stands, school systems are often affected by annexations and yet often get no prior notice or opportunity to participate in the process. My bill would:

  • Allow local governing entities to participate in and object to annexations and bond validations that have financial impact on their operations and would require notice of the proposed annexations.
  • Prohibit development authorities, counties, and other municipal governments from entering into contracts with tax incentives without notifying other affected local governments. 

Those of you in HD 82 will remember the fuss when the City of Atlanta was annexing parts of the Emory area and the protracted dispute between the City of Decatur and the DeKalb County School District about the annexation process by Decatur (solved only by local legislation passed in the General Assembly last year).

The bills have been assigned to the House Governmental Affairs Committee. For more information, go to the AJC story on my bills HERE.
REDISTRICTING CITY AND COUNTY GOVERNMENTS
Senator Emmanuel Jones
Sen. Emmanuel Jones (D, SD 10, Decatur). Photo Credit: Bob Andres AJC
In addition to redrawing districts for federal and state elections, the 2020 Census data is being used to evaluate population shifts at the city and county levels. So some existing districts for county commission and city council positions will be redrawn.

Controversy is brewing in DeKalb County, where state Senator Emmanuel Jones has prepared a redistricting map for Dekalb County's Board of Commissioners that would eliminate the two existing super districts and create seven single-member districts.

My questions: Do the population changes in Dekalb justify this plan? When will this proposal be brought to the Joint DeKalb Delegation? Has the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners taken this up? What are the plans for hearings and public comment? What is happening with the stalled review of the DeKalb County Charter? In other words, I'm seeking transparency and an opportunity for public input.

IN THE NEWS...
The Mental Health Bill announcement was covered by many press outlets. In case you missed it, here are some clips to TV and online stories.


Student journalist Taylor Reimann at Kennesaw State's Fresh Take Georgia Center for Sustainable Journalism interviewed me about the mental health bill for a podcast. Listen HERE
WE WELCOME ANOTHER NEW INTERN
McKaylin Darsey from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
Emory University Candler School of Theology student McKaylin Darsey has joined our team. I am always happy to have student interns from Emory University (which is in our district and from which I received my law degree). McKaylin's interests include the intersection of faith and public policy and a passion for affordable housing. She hails from the Savannah area, where her mother is a leader in addressing homelessness. You may see McKaylin with me and Michelle Salandy, our other Emory intern, from time to time at the Capitol or at virtual events. Welcome, McKaylin!

By the way, my Chief of Staff Sydney Cleland and my Capitol office Assistant Olivia Sims are always ready to help you. Please use the contact information below.
OUT AND ABOUT -- and in the House
In January, committee meetings began in earnest, and I met with many groups, in person and on Zoom. If you would like me to meet with you or your group, please contact me.

COMING UP FEB. 9: A ZOOM TOWN HALL with Sen. Elena Parent, Rep. Becky Evans, and me. More info coming soon on Facebook at marymargaretoliver.
It's always a pleasure to speak to the Under the Gold Dome class at my church, All Saints' Episcopal. And Senator Rev. Kim Jackson (D-SD 41 Stone Mountain) and I spoke to the Faith and Advocacy Network at St. Luke's Episcopal Church earlier in January.
MMO @ Biden Event Jan 2022
Biden Harris Jan. 2022
Standing in the cold to hear President Biden and Vice-President Harris in Atlanta---totally worth it!
Mayor Dickens Center Aisle Walk Jan. 2022
Mayor André Dickens visited the House and was invited to enter by the center aisle, an honor usually reserved for the Governor and other state dignitaries. Among other things, he expressed a desire to keep Atlanta united. I have signed onto legislation to prohibit deannexation such as that proposed by advocates of the City of Buckhead. HB 901 I am optimistic about working with Mayor Dickens. Photos by House Media Services.
Stepped out of budget hearings to witness Governor Kemp swearing in two new excellent Dekalb State Court judges: Charles Bailey, my long-time friend, and Ana Maria Martinez, Georgia's first Latina county judge. Welcome, new judges!
MMO Morning Order Re Jeff Parker
Speaking during Morning Orders after the death by suicide of MARTA CEO Jeff Parker (more below). Watch my remarks HERE
Left: Rep. Mandi Ballinger and I met on Zoom with a staffer and young participant in the Deep Center in Savannah. They wanted to discuss the Raise the Age bill that we have worked on for so long and that passed the House last year. Georgia remains one of the few states that treats 17 year olds as adults. HB 272 The Zoom was recorded for the Georgia Justice Reform Partnership and you can watch it and other parts of their Talk Justice Tuesday program on Protecting Children's Rights on Tuesday February 8 at 9:30 a.m. Go HERE to learn more and register.
Addressing a meeting of the Georgia Supreme Court Committee on Justice for Children, on which I serve.
ON MARTA CEO JEFF PARKER
My sad duty on Day 5 of the Session was to honor the life and recognize the death of Jeffrey Alan Parker, CEO of MARTA.

His family has acknowledged his death by suicide and his wife and daughters spoke very movingly at the later church service about the need for mental health preventive services in our state. While not comparable to his family's grief, replacing Jeff at MARTA will be painful and difficult for those who knew him professionally and as a friend and colleague.

The family invites donations to be made to the Jeff Parker Memorial Fund at the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, Georgia Chapter.

Also, if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, there is help at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. You can also call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225. Both are staffed 24/7. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

I wish you all good health, physical and mental, and promise to keep working for everyone suffering from lack of proper medical care.

QUICK LINKS FOR YOU
You can search for and track bills, watch the House (or Senate) in Session, watch committee hearings, monitor legislation by committee, and find contact information —- all on the revamped General Assembly website. Here are quick links:


Make your views known. Write to the leaders:

Coverdell Legislative Office Building
18 Capitol Square, Suite 604
Atlanta, GA  30334
404-656-0265