State Sen. Ben Watson, MD, Guest writer.
The 2022 Georgia General Assembly session wrapped up Monday April 4, with the final session running late into the evening to complete all business before midnight. At or before midnight, both the House of Representatives and the Senate will agree to adjourn “Sine Die” and bring the gavel down signaling the end of the session. But this week was havoc-filled as both senators and representatives hurried between committees to ensure their priority legislation would pass the germane committee and the Rules committee, then making the way for bills to get to the respective legislative floors for a vote.
I am grateful that the Governor signed into law our effort to give excess tax dollars back to the taxpayers. House Bill 1302 created a one-time tax credit for taxpayers who filed a return for both 2020 and 2021 taxable years. Single filers would be eligible for a tax credit of $250, those filing jointly will be eligible for a credit of $500 and those filing as a head of household would be eligible for a $375 credit.
One of my most important priorities this year was our dealing with mental health issues.
The bill I was carrying, in conjunction with the Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan and Speaker David Ralston, was House Bill 1013, known as the “Mental Health Parity Act.” The bill received final passage by both the Senate and the House. This bill is now sent to the Governor for his signature. House Bill 1013 represents an overhaul of mental health parity, specifically as it relates to education, courts, healthcare, insurance and social services. The bill creates reforms to ensure that both physical and mental illnesses receive a more equitable share of resources. The passage of this is a historic milestone in the recognition that access to quality mental health resources is of the highest priority to the General Assembly. While this bill will not solve every mental health issue facing our state, it will bring Georgia one step closer to closing the gap between those experiencing distress and the resources available to treat them.
While mental health was a top priority for many of us, we would be remiss not to mention the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 state budget which, by our state constitution, is the only item that must be passed. House Bill 911, the FY 2023 budget, is based on a revenue estimate of $30.2 billion, an increase of 10.8% over original FY 2022 budget. In the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget, we passed a bond sale for state funding of $83 million for the completion of the Savannah International Convention Center. This legislation allows the build out of the facility to be finished and the ability of the greater Savannah-area to attract bigger conventions and their economic largess.
The bill also includes $7.5 million for the construction of a new physical plant at Savannah State University and $2.8 million for a Science Center Lab at the Georgia Southern campus in Savannah. The budget also contains a Medicaid Waiver adding $139.8 million to implement the state’s reinsurance program and healthcare exchange. S.B. 106, called the “Patient First Act,” would effectively change the coverage for those seeking the state funded health program from 100% of the federal poverty level to 137%. This is an effort to meet federal requirements for funding Medicaid to assist the neediest of our citizens.
Another bill of mine, Senate Bill 403, also known as the “Georgia Behavioral Health and Peace Officer Co-Responder Act,” passed the House this week unanimously and now heads to the Governor for signature.
In another piece of the mental Health effort, S.B. 403 requires each community service board to establish a co-responder program to work with local law enforcement agencies responding to emergency calls involving people in a behavioral health crisis. Law enforcement agencies have the option to collaborate with co-responder programs and can consider input from the community service board when determining where to refer the
individual. Community service boards team members must be available in person or virtually during related emergency calls. Emergency facilities that receive individuals transported by the team for evaluation are required to notify the community service board prior to release of the admitted individual.
Any law enforcement agency or community service board, along with their personnel, will be immune from civil liability for their actions done in good faith related to team dispatch, incarceration of an individual, transportation to an emergency receiving facility, and not taking someone into custody.
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 ben.watson@ senate.ga.gov. I look forward to continuing to serve you.