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Rep. Ron Stephens: Mental health an important issue
Ron Stephens
State Rep. Ron Stephens

Rep. Ron Stephens

Guest columnist

The Georgia House of Representatives reconvened for the eighth week of the 2023 legislative session and by weeks end we had finished 27 of the 40 days left in the session. We have the all-important “crossover day” scheduled for Monday, March 6. As I have discussed before, crossover day is the last day that a House bill may be considered and passed to be reviewed by the Senate. We will be considering many pieces of legislation that day.

Mental Health is an important issue for many of us in the General Assembly. Last session, the House of Representatives championed the Mental Health Parity Act to reform Georgia’s mental health care delivery system and improve client outcomes for those with severe mental illness. Building upon this monumental bill’s foundation, the House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 520 this week to continue to streamline and improve the state’s behavioral health care system and expand its workforce. To that end, this year’s bipartisan mental health bill would create new state authorities and pilot programs to help develop standardized terminology for serious mental illness, improve sharing and collecting data among law enforcement and state agencies, as well as establish rules for transferring data in compliance with federal and state law. Additionally, HB 520 would authorize the state’s Behavioral Innovation and Reform Commission to establish a task force to build a continuum of care.

This week, the House also passed bipartisan legislation to expand mental health care options for veterans living in Georgia. House Bill 414 would create the Veterans Mental Health Services Program, which would serve as a competitive grant program to improve access to mental health services for service members, veterans and their family members in Georgia. The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities would administer these grants to eligible non-profit community behavioral health programs that demonstrate their ty to provide high-quality services to veterans and their families.

We also unanimously passed a historic bill to protect the rights of both Georgia’s renters and landlords and ensure that rental properties are kept in a safe and healthy condition. First, House Bill 404 would require rental properties to be “fit for human habitation” upon signing a lease, and landlords would be required to maintain their properties throughout the duration of the lease. Another provision of the bill would prohibit landlords from turning off a rental home’s air conditioning system prior to an eviction to force tenants to move out. HB 404 would also prohibit landlords from requiring a security deposit that exceeds two months’ rent. This legislation also seeks to balance the needs of landlords and their tenants during an eviction process.

In an effort to be more friendly to our military families and recognize the growing population increases in Georgia, we passed House Bill 155, which would require professional licensing boards to issue a license by endorsement to an individual seeking licensure except for firefighters, health care providers and law enforcement officers. To be eligible, individuals must establish residency in Georgia, hold a current license in another state, be in good standing in that state and pass required examinations; this bill would not apply to law practice licensing, override licensing compacts or permit issuance of a license without verification.

One piece of legislation I introduced is House Bill 557 which passed out of the Public Health Committee and now heads to the entire House of Representatives for approval.

This is important legislation as many small counties have limited physician support. To that end, I hope this bill passes so that knowledgeable advanced practice registered nurse who has at least one year of post-licensure clinical experience and is in good standing with the board may be authorized under a nurse protocol agreement to issue prescription drug orders for Schedule II controlled substances.

I will continue to be your voice in dealing with problems or questions about your state government. I encourage you to contact me with your input and thoughts on proposed legislation or current events that may impact our community. I am in 226-A of the State Capitol. My office phone number is (404) 656-5115 and my email is ron.stephens@house.

I look forward to continuing this session and serving all of you.

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