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State Sen. Ben Watson: St. Patrick's delegation honored
Ben Watson
State Sen. Ben Watson

State Sen. Ben Watson, MD, Guest writer.

One enduring moment of the legislative session every year is when the Georgia Senate and the House of Representatives welcome the Savannah delegation of the St. Patrick Day’s Committee to the state capitol. This year we welcomed former Chatham County Tax Commissioner Danny Powers, who has been selected at the 2022 Parade Grand Marshall. Congratulations to Danny.

Last week was really dominated by 2022 candidate election qualifying for various statewide and congressional leadership positions, as well as for every seat in both the Senate and the House. Many local seats will be up for grabs across the state.

The House has completed work on their mental health bill, and it has arrived in the Senate and been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, for which I am Chairman. House Bill 1013 requires that all health care insurance plans provide coverage for mental health treatment or substance use disorders in any managed care plan offered in Georgia, and must do so in accordance with the federal ‘Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.’ Saying that, this legislation will change over the coming weeks as the Senate makes changes to the legislation. As mental health issues are a top priority for both the Lieutenant Governor and I, we will work for accessible care, fundamental changes utilizing best practices from across the globe, and meaningful accountability for resources spent and utilized.

I am also carrying legislation now for consideration. I will be presenting Senate Bill 403 to the House Health and Human Services Committee later this week. The legislation, referred to as 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 behavorial health crisis receive an appropriate response, appropriate 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 in most urgent and genuine need.

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. I look forward to continuing to serve you.

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