Such fun to join Congregation Beth Jacob on LaVista Road in my district last Sunday for the parade celebrating the Jewish festival of Purim honoring Queen Esther's bravery for her people. My car was full -- with happy volunteers! (Henry had to share his space!)
MENTAL HEALTH BILL PASSES HOUSE-- MOVES TO SENATE
Presenting the Mental Health Parity Act on the House floor. It passed 169-3 on Tuesday, March 8, and we have had three hearings before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and its subcommittees. Hearings four and five are planned for next Monday and Wednesday.
HB 1013 gives Georgians relief and services in the following ways:

The 74 page bill contains many important parts, each of which will significantly impact the cost and delivery of services to those suffering mental health and substance use disorders and their families. It can be summed up this way:


1) With this bill, Georgia will come into compliance with federal law requiring mental health and substance use insurance coverage to be no more restrictive than coverage for other health care ("parity"), and insurance companies under contract to the state will be required to spend a minimum of 85% of their collected premiums on direct care services.

2) The bill addresses and improves services for those chronic sufferers who are frequent users of emergency departments and crisis units, have repeated encounters with law enforcement and the courts, and often are incarcerated rather than receiving appropriate treatment. It provides for Assisted Outpatient Care, accountability courts, and local trained co-responders to accompany peace officers to calls involving mental illness or substance abuse.

HB 1013 also:

Establishes further data collection and reporting requirements for state agencies to ensure compliance and accountability.

● Defines mental health and substance use disorders as those included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a standard used by mental health professionals throughout the U.S.

● Encourages workforce development through the application of service cancellable provisions to existing loans for mental health professionals and to new loans for those training in the profession.

● Includes provisions for reimbursement for primary care providers and prohibits restrictions on same-day visits reimbursements.

● Requires the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to establish a grant program to implement Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) that will model a future statewide program. The courts need an alternative to hospitalization and prison for noncompliant outpatients.

● Changes the definition of Inpatient and Outpatient Involuntary Commitment to align with that of other states by removing the requirement that a person present a substantial risk of “imminent” harm to self or others, leaving peace officers and responders more flexibility to take a person into custody for mental health evaluation, while adding additional protections for the person in such circumstances.

● Removes the requirement that a peace officer must observe a crime in progress before taking a person into custody for mental health evaluation. Jails are the primary mental health treatment facilities in most jurisdictions throughout the U.S. and are not the best solution to help those who consistently cycle through the criminal justice and hospital systems. Commission of a crime should not be required to get a mental health evaluation.

Watch my presentation on the House Floor, below.
Rep. Jones and I joined host Donna Lowry on GPB's Lawmakers on Tuesday, March 8 after the passage of HB 1013. We had the luxury of the entire half hour to explain the bill. If you missed it, you will find it HERE.
What happens to HB 1013 now?

The bill is in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. We have completed three hearings this week and are making progress. Two more hearings are scheduled next week. The link will take you to a list of committee members, in case you wish to write them.
Rep. Jones and I presented an overview of HB 1013 in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Monday, March 14.
POLL RESULTS AND NEW QUESTION
Results from last poll about whether houses of worship should be allowed to ban weapons and long guns.

Over 90% of you said houses of worship should be able to ban guns. As of this writing HB 1378 has not made it to the floor for a vote.
Would you vote to legalize horse racing and betting in Georgia?
Yes
No
New Question

While it died in the Senate, legalization of horse racing and betting on horse races is a perennial issue. How would you vote?

Answer my poll on the left.
MORE GOOD NEWS: MY DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITIES BILL PASSES!
HB 923 Passes the House, moves on to the Senate.

Over the past 18 months, I have drilled down on analyzing and understanding the impact of development authorities. This work resulted in the passage Tuesday of HB 923. I feel good about this effort to bring greater transparency and accountability to development authorities. HB 923 adds two provisions to the existing law:

1) Caps the per diem allowance for authority directors in counties with populations over 550,000 in the 1980 census. The cap is the per diem allowance for members of the General Assembly as set by statute.

2) Grants concurrent jurisdiction to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission to hold hearings on charges of ethics violations filed against directors of development authorities. This applies to all development authorities throughout the state.

For another day--- I had proposed a change to the law governing bond validation hearings to specify that school systems and governmental entities have the right to intervene in bond validation hearings (upon proof the bond issuance will have an impact on them). While the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association supported this provision, the Governmental Affairs Committee had more questions, and Chair Darlene Taylor asked that I withdraw that provision for another time. This happens in legislation all the time, and compromises are painful. We will see what happens in the Senate--can I add this provision back when they take it up?


Watch my short presentation of HB 923 on the House floor below.
UPDATE ON OTHER LEGISLATION
We have been busy with other bills, so I want to call your attention to some important ones:

Budget

Governor Kemp has signed the midyear (“little”) budget, which takes us through June 30, 2022. Highlights:
  • Returns to taxpayers $1.6 billion in income tax from the 2021 budget surplus ($250 single filers; $500 joint filers)
  • Gives teachers $2000 bonus, with a later pay raise in the 2023 budget
  • Gives raises of $5000 for all state and university system employees and $7000 for those in the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice (to address workforce issues)
  • Increases state employee 401(k) match and COLA for retired state employees
  • Restores K-12 funding to pre-pandemic amounts
  • Increases to Medicare
  • Adds $400 million for plans and purchases related to new state prisons.

The House also passed the FY 2023 budget, our only constitutional duty. It is in the Senate for review and approval before finalizing. Highlights:
  • $30.2 billion budget total
  • Increases state spending by 10.8%
  • $11.8 billion for k-12 education and full funding for the k-12 student funding formula cut during the pandemic
  • $2000 increase in the base salary schedule for teachers
  • $148.9 million in new funds for public safety and expanded programs for those with mental health and substance use disorders
  • Creates and funds a mental health parity officer in the Office of the Insurance Commissioner to oversee implementation of parity
  • $28.2 million for one year of postpartum Medicaid coverage for mothers to address Georgia’s high maternal mortality rate.
  • Adds $4.1 million in lottery funds to increase the award amount for the HOPE Scholarship-Private Schools award by 6%
  • Adds 325 slots to the New Options Waiver (NOW) and Comprehensive Supports Waiver (COMP)programs for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. (Note: there are an estimated 7000 waiting for these waivers). 


Elections

HB 1464 Passed. The bill gives the GBI the right to initiate investigations of potential voter fraud, rather than waiting to be invited by the Secretary of State; gives the public the right to inspect paper ballots after the election; and prevents local election boards from receiving funding from private sources. I voted NO but the bill passed on partisan lines 98 to 73.

Bills that Hurt and Harm

There is a raft of bills designed by Republicans to send partisan messages to voters in an election year.
Most are in the Senate, and even if they don’t progress, they dampen civil rights or needlessly create controversy.

SB 613 Stalled in Senate. This is Georgia’s version of Florida’s “Don't Say Gay” bill to prevent private schools and programs from discussing or promoting discussions of sexual identity or gender in primary grades or in a manner inappropriate for the age and developmental stage of the student. This bad bill is stalled in the Senate, and I will vote NO if it comes to the House.

SB 435 Passed Senate. This is another terrible bill targeting children by banning transgender boys and girls from competing in school sports teams matching their gender identity. The Senate passed this bill, and I will vote NO when it comes to the House.

Education

Similar to bills that hurt and harm, these are election-year messaging bills that will have a chilling effect on teachers (who are already stressed and in short supply).

HB 1084 and SB 377 Passed both. These are the so-called “CRT” bills that would ban teachers from teaching certain concepts (such as that there is systemic racism in the United States) that the promoters see as “divisive.” The House passed 1084 on partisan lines 92 to 63, and I voted NO.

HB 1178 and SB 449 Passed both. These purport to give parents rights that they mostly already have as to the upbringing and management of their children in schools. I voted NO on the House bill, which passed on partisan lines 98 to 68.

Also Education

HB 1283 Passed. A positive bill, requiring recess for kindergarten and grades 1 through 5. I was happy to vote YES.

HB 1435 Passed. Adds to the list of eligible students for needs-based financial aid those who have a financial aid gap. I voted YES.

Health

HB 1425 Passed. This bill on medical marijuana generated extended floor debate on Crossover Day. In 2019, we passed a law to create licenses for distributors of medical marijuana prescriptions. The state failed to do its job—no licenses have been issued to date. This is a prime example of the state failing to deliver on promised services, and 1425 is designed to correct the problem. The bill finally passed with little opposition, and I voted YES.

HB 937 Passed. This is the first bill brought by Rep. Sharon Henderson and arises from her experience with breast cancer. The bill requires insurers to give annual notice to all women age 40 and up to obtain mammograms. I voted YES.

HB 1358 and SB 319 Passed both. The House bill would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a prior background check and license. The House version applies to any person who has a license or would be eligible for a license, including residents of other states who are licensed or eligible in their states. I voted NO on a partisan line vote in which the law passed 94 to 57.

SB 456 Passed. Another bill restricting the rights of women by controlling their access to birth control measures, in this case the so-called “abortion pill.” I will vote NO when this bill comes to the House.

Environment and Energy

HB 1289 Stuck. This important bill would protect the Okefenokee from damage by surface mining in
an area known as Trail Ridge adjacent to the Okefenokee Swamp between the St. Mary's and Satilla Rivers. House Natural Resources Committee Chair Lynne Smith refuses to give it a hearing. I am a co-sponsor and advocate for the protection of this natural resource.

HB 1083 Stuck. I support this bill that would remove the cap on monthly net metering and require utilities to compensate energy producers like homeowners, small businesses, and schools which utilize solar panels. It remains stuck in the Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications Committee.

Pets and Wildlife

HB 1450 In Committee. This bill would provide protections for dogs kept outdoors, including adequate food, shelter, water, and movement. I am a co-sponsor. It is stuck in the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, opposed by hunting dog owners.

HB 1147 Passed. I voted against this bill, which will authorize year round hunting and trapping of racoon and possum, but it passed 141 to 17.

HB 1376 Stuck. This one has not come to the floor yet but would allow restaurants with outdoor dining to serve patrons’ pet dogs in designated areas under certain conditions without violating public health laws.

Government and Judicial

HB 824 Passed. This bill would increase the retirement allowance for members of the General Assembly. No taxpayer money funds this retirement plan. I voted YES.

HR 842 Passed. This proposes that voters decide on a Constitutional amendment that would establish the pay of state senators and representatives to no more than 60% of median household income in Georgia. Based on current numbers, our salaries would more than double at this time from $17,000 to $36,000. I voted NO on this pay raise, but the bill passed 136 to 33.

HB 1390 Passed. This bill grants a right of action to those who allege a city or county government retaliated against them in response to a complaint of sex discrimination. I voted YES.

Development

HB 1461 Passed. This bill arose from the Study Committee on Annexation on which I served. Most of the things I have advocated to smooth and bring transparency to the annexation arbitration process are in the bill, including prior notice to school systems of pending annexation arbitrations. I voted YES.

HB 923 Passed. My bill on development authorities (see above).


Did Not Pass—but watch for resurgence

SB 601 School vouchers of $6000 to parents who withdraw children from public schools for private schools.

SB 212 and SR 131 Horseracing— up to 5 tracks and betting anywhere in state.

SB 535 Homelessness — making camping on public property a misdemeanor and withholding funding from cities that fail to enforce this law.

To look up any of these bills, go HERE and enter the bill number preceded by SB for Senate and HB for House into the box at the top to "Search Legislation."
COMING UP !
Rep. Scott Holcomb (HD 81) and I will do a town hall very soon. Be on the lookout for the announcement on Facebook.

And Rep. Becky Evans (HD 83) and Sen. Elena Parent (SD 42) and I will be together NEXT WEEK, on Thursday March 24 at 7 p.m. for a town hall. Look for the announcement on Facebook.
SCENES IN THE HOUSE
I was happy to see Stacey Abrams come to the Capitol to qualify for the race for Governor, and I also qualified for my race to return to House District 82.
I enjoyed meeting An Li, Dylan Rayon-Cano, and Nadya Phoenix with Community Estella, an advocacy and support group for Trans and Latinx people.
After the first hearing in the Senate, I spoke with Senior Judge David Sweat of the Athens-Clarke County Judicial Circuit. Judge Sweat has brought extensive expertise to the sections of HB 1013 relating to law enforcement and the courts.
The Georgia Women's Legislative Caucus meets for lunch, here on the day of the Nikki T. Randall Servant Leadership Awards. During Women's History Month we recognize women who exemplify the inspirational qualities of former Rep. Nikki Randall, the first African American woman elected from middle Georgia, who served in the House for 17 years. Each year, we wear black, pearls, and a yellow rose for the occasion.
On Wednesday, I joined Rep. Bee Nguyen and other legislators in the well to recognize the somber one year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings, in which eight Asian American Georgians lost their lives.
COVID STILL WITH US...
At the Capitol, we are tested twice a week and required to wear masks on the House Floor. I hope you and your loved ones are staying well. Please take advantage of these resources to keep yourself and other safe.


THANK YOU!
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.

I look forward to meeting with you virtually on Wednesday night!

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