Photo credit: Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder. All other photos by Sydney Cleland unless otherwise indicated.
Five hearings in the Senate drew rally gatherings by advocates and noisy, distracting opposition from fringe groups spreading disinformation
Sen. Brian Strickland, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an organizer of the Senate Mental Health Caucus successfully carried the bill in the Senate. Photo at left Jill Nolin
After the Speaker (joined by Mrs. Ralston) presided over the final House vote on the Senate substitute, we celebrated a bipartisan big win for all Georgians. Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder.
On Wednesday, both chambers unanimously passed HB 1013, a watershed moment in state lawmaking and for all in our state suffering the effects of mental illness and substance abuse.

As I told Decaturish, “Speaker Ralston’s HB 1013 passed the Senate this afternoon with a unanimous vote to bring significant reforms to Georgia’s mental health system. The bill is 76 pages and provides new parity provisions, cancelable education loans for those serving needy areas, enforcement of MLR Medical Loss Ratio, creation of law enforcement mental health units and outpatient oversight—plus more. The final agreement reached represents bipartisan legislative teams led by Chair Todd Jones and me. [Hundreds] of hours of work, and it was a privilege to participate.”

The Speaker brought this bill in response to the urging of law enforcement in his district who daily deal with those experiencing mental health or substance use crises. He gave credit also to his wife for her encouragement. Speaker Ralston told the AJC's Maya Prahbu: “Today, hope won....Today, countless Georgians will know that we have heard their despair and frustration. We have set Georgia on a path of lifting up and reforming a failed mental health care system.”

If you have been following the trajectory of this bill, we began our work over two years ago when the Governor appointed the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission -- experts in mental and behavioral health and representatives from the General Assembly, the courts, and law enforcement and the medical communities. Under the leadership of former representative Kevin Tanner, Commission subcommittees continued to work even after the report was filed with the Governor in January 2021.

The resulting 70-plus page bill was introduced by the Speaker on January 27, passed the House with only 3 opposing votes on March 8 after three full hearings, and then passed the Senate on March 23 after five hearings. Finally both houses passed the measure on Wednesday.

After the House vote, the bill did run into headwinds in the Senate, mostly from outside groups. In the end, as the Speaker said to Jill Nolin of the Georgia Recorder, "We are reminded again today that truth is a powerful force.”

I was happy that the substance of a bill filed last year by Rep. Yasmin Neal was incorporated into HB 1013. HB 570 The measure incorporated adds behavioral health c0-responders to those trained at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. Another bill, SB 403 brought by Sen. Ben Watson of Savannah, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that heard HB 1013, was passed separately by both chambers rather than being incorporated. That bill requires all 23 Community Service Boards in the state to establish c0-responder programs. These programs will be instrumental in coordinating with law enforcement an appropriate response to emergency calls involving potential mental health or substance use crises. The idea is to get such persons in crisis to care rather than take them to jail.

Many more other good things in the bill -- we will discuss those in the future.
Other news on the passage of the bill:
Lawmakers (Link to show prior to passage. Look for me on Lawmakers on Monday night 4/4 around 7:15-7:30.)
Above, with HB 1013 advocates and Rep. Todd Jones, and earlier waiting in the back of the Senate for that chamber's vote. Photo of me with Rep. Jones (edited): Rep. Becky Evans.
What happens to HB 1013 now?

It goes to the Governor's desk for signature. He can choose to sign, veto, or ignore. If he signs (or if he ignores), the bill becomes effective July 1, 2022.
I will send out another Newsletter next week after we wrap up the Session Sine Die on Monday, April 4. Look for details on the bills that made it through and those that did not.

As always, I appreciate your interest and advocacy. Please reach out to me by email or phone to let me know your thoughts about proposed legislation or community concerns.

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