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Legislative week in review

On Tuesday, March 8, I returned to the Georgia State Capitol for another eventful week of the 2022 legislative session. The Crossover Day deadline is approaching in a matter of days, so this week was one of our busiest and most crucial times of the session thus far. We took advantage of an entire committee work day and spent three long days in the House Chamber to vote on a multitude of bills, including the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget, mental health care reform legislation, and several other measures that will impact Georgians.

Fiscal Year 2023 Budget

Before the week was over, the House came one step closer to fulfilling our only constitutional obligation by passing House Bill 911, he FY 2023 budget. This budget dedicates our state funds for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022, and ends the following year on June 30, 2023. The FY 2023 budget is set at a revenue estimate of $30.2 billion, which is a $2.9 billion or 10.8 percent increase over the FY 2022 original budget, and this budget permanently restores nearly $640 million eliminated from the budget in FY 2021 during the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last nine months, the House Appropriations Committee worked strategically to identify how to provide more funding to:

Public Safety

Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is allocated an additional $18 million, to hire 67 additional staff and retain current staff in critical areas including forensic labs and the medical examiner’s office to speed evidence processing and investigations

Georgia Department of Public Safety

$4.9 million in this budget bill to hire additional state troopers and expand crisis intervention training opportunities for law enforcement officers statewide

Mental Health Services

$5.5 million is included for the state’s accountability court system to create five new mental health accountability courts, provide raises for accountability court employees and provide additional specialized staff support

$16 million is allocated for additional staff positions and salary increases for the state’s prosecutors and public defenders to assist with recruitment and retention

Georgia Department of Law

$2 million in HB 911 to hire additional staff to focus on prosecuting human traffickers and gang members

Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD)

$9.7 allocated to fund a new 16-bed and 50 temporary observation chair behavioral health crisis center, as well as $3.8 million to retrofit another facility in Augusta to add eight beds and 16 observation chairs

$6.3 million is budgeted for opening additional bed space at the 18-bed adult medical psychiatric unit at Grady Memorial Hospital

The Georgia Crisis and Access Line is earmarked $2.1 million to prepare for the launch of the national 988 hotline

$6.6 million to fund 325 additional slots for the New Options Waiver (NOW) and Comprehensive Supports Waiver Program (COMP) for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Education

As always, educating Georgia’s children remains a key priority reflected in the FY 23 state budget, and this budget includes more funding for K-12 education than ever before. The Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula for public schools is funded at more than $11.8 billion. There is also an additional $3 million to maintain our charter school facilities.

Georgia Student Finance Commission received additional funding for service cancellable loans to boost recruitment and retention among key state employees including state medical examiners, National Guard members, law enforcement officers and mental health practitioners.

These are just some of the highlights that I am most excited to bring your attention to today. A comprehensive list of FY 2023 highlights from the House Budget and Research Office.

Amended Fiscal Year 2022 Final Passage

In addition, the Georgia General Assembly gave final passage to House Bill 910, or the Amended Fiscal Year 2022 budget this week, sending it to Governor Kemp to be signed into law. The AFY 2022 budget is set at a revenue estimate of $30.3 billion, which is an increase of $3.08 billion or 1.3 percent over the current budget. This increase will allow our state to provide additional funding during the current fiscal year for many of our priorities, including more than $900 million in one-time expenses for our state’s infrastructure and $950 million to provide salary increases for state employees and teachers.

Mental Health Parity Act

We also passed one of the most important, bipartisan bills of the entire session this week with House Bill 1013, or the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act, to provide comprehensive reforms for our state’s mental health care system and give Georgians struggling with mental illness the resources they need. This legislation, which has been in the making for the last three years, would provide sweeping legislative changes to help improve insurance coverage and the delivery of mental health care, and I would like to highlight some of the bill’s impactful measures.

The Georgia Mental Health Parity Act would:

Require health insurance plans, including our state health care plans, to provide parity for mental health and substance use disorders so that they are treated and covered to the same degree as physical care, as well as extend this coverage to a spouse and dependents covered under the same health plan

Establish procedures through the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and Safety Fire to ensure compliance with mental health parity requirements, address compliance violations, as well as implement thorough reporting requirements for health care entities

Authorize service cancelable educational loans for Georgia residents for mental health/medical professionals who work in pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, mental health and substance abuse care. These loans would be conditional on the student agreeing to practice as a professional within an approved geographical area of the state with the greatest need

To help keep Georgians with mental illness from entering our correctional system and enhance resources for frontline responders this bill:

Creates a network of local co-response teams, comprised of behavioral health professionals and peace officers to promote pre-arrest diversion. These teams would respond to emergency calls and connect those that interact with law enforcement with community-based treatment service

Modify how our law enforcement officers interact with individuals in a mental health crisis who may require involuntary treatment so that these individuals can receive an emergency evaluation without being charged with a crime first

Establish mobile crisis teams to ensure the person’s initial safety and security during the evaluation

Create a task force specifically designed to help communities coordinate activities that would keep patients with severe mental illness out of jails and detention facilities

DBHDD would oversee a statewide technical assistance center to share information across counties and distribute grant funding to help local authorities implement these deterrent initiatives

Authorize the state’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to create a grant program to fund accountability courts that serve mental health and co-occurring substance use disorder populations to implement gender-specific trauma treatment, hire a technical assistance employee for these courts, and pay for emergency transportation costs associated with these courts

Allow the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination (OHSC) to partner with our state’s correctional and juvenile justice agencies to evaluate mental health wraparound services for the state reentry plan, as well as partner with the Department of Community Supervision to share mental health data between agencies to facilitate tracking and treating people under community supervision who receive community-based mental health services

Promote greater opportunities for mental health treatment options by creating a three-year grant program that would help increase the number of outpatient treatment care facilities in our state. Overseen by the DBHDD, this grant program would establish an overall assisted outpatient treatment model in Georgia and measure the effectiveness of such facilities

OHSC would be charged with overseeing the coordination of behavioral health services for children, adolescents, and adults by monitoring ways to expand access to children's behavioral health services across the state.

Rural Health Care Workforce Shortages

House Bill 1042 creates a new grant program under the OneGeorgia Authority, which issues grants and loans for economic development initiatives in rural Georgia. This program would provide up to $200,000 in grant funding to eligible development authorities seeking to establish primary care, dental or mental health care medical facilities in health professional shortage areas.

House Bill 1371 to create the Rural Health Advancement Commission, which would collaborate with educational institutions and health care facilities to address long and short-term workforce shortages in rural Georgia.

Gas Tax Suspension

House Bill 304 to allow the governor to suspend the state motor fuel excise tax through the end of May 2022. We will continue to closely monitor how the Russian invasion will continue to impact us here at home, and we anticipate that our colleagues in the Senate will also pass this legislation so the governor can sign it into law as quickly as possible.

I am pleased to announce that I Qualified to run for re-election! I thank you for all your past support and I will be honored if you will continue to support me as I work for you!

I remain dedicated to serving your interests as your state representative, and I hope that you will contact me with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the legislative session or with any proposals or recommendations for future legislation.

You can also stay in touch by visiting our website at www.house.ga.gov to watch a live stream of the House in action, as well as archived committee meetings, and review legislation that we are considering.

Follow me on facebook for updates throughout the year.

Thank you for allowing me to be your representative.

Sincerely,

Representative Butch Parrish

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