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State Sen. Ben Watson: Bill seeks to help mentally ill
Ben Watson
State Sen. Ben Watson

State Sen. Ben Watson, MD, Guest writer.

As I have previously reported to you in this column, one of my top priorities during this legislative session is to assist our state’s response and performance towards helping those with mental illnesses, especially in our response towards their actions. This topic has become even important as we become more attuned to the causes of mental illness and the cost, both physically and emotionally.

The Senate unanimously passed a sweeping plan to help those who are mentally ill with Senate Bill 403, legislation proffered by our Lieutenant Governor. I carried the legislation in the Senate and appreciate the active support from retired Judge Sweat of Athens-Clarke County, our very own District Director of Gateway Mark Johnson, and Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher.

The legislation, called the Georgia Behavioral Health and Peace Officer Co-Responder Act, establishes a statewide framework for implementation of co-responder programs. Building on the success of local programs currently in operation, the Georgia Behavioral Health and Peace Officer Co-Responder Act provides an integrated model for partnership and collaboration between behavioral health professionals and law enforcement to act as a team in responding to mental health emergency calls. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to ensure individuals in a behavioral health crisis receive an appropriate response, proper care, and consistent follow-up. This legislation is a significant step toward securing mental health services in Georgia communities by providing crisis intervention to those who have the most urgent need at the time they need that care.

The other major issue I am committed to finding a remedy for is our staggering post-partum deaths for new mothers. Depending on what data model you look at, Georgia is either last or near-last in protecting women from post-partum deaths. I will continue working to help lower maternal morbidity rates. This year we have codified funding into the budget for the Medicaid coverage of mothers, for up to a year of Medicaid coverage, for post-partum care. These reforms will now support a full year of medical coverage for mothers with problem pregnancies. I believe this early medical care will significantly help lower long-term costs to the state and save taxpayers money by reducing preventable medical problems to both children and adults.

I also cosponsored S.B. 496 to require an inquest to determine the cause of death in post-pregnant females when there is no attending physician. The legislation essentially requires an autopsy in cases where a pregnant female, or a female who was pregnant within the preceding 365 days, passes away.

This is an important step in obtaining quality data and information so medical researchers can find a cure for these tragic deaths. Georgia needs to work to save lives of mothers with problem pregnancies and lower their death rate. I deeply appreciate that my fellow senators agreed by unanimously passing this legislation.

Thank you for your continued interest in the General Assembly session.

As your public servant, feel free to visit me at the Capitol or to reach out to me by phone or email. I am in 325-A Coverdell Legislative Office Building.

My office phone number is (404) 656-7880 and my email is

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