A Georgia bill to increase mental health funding failed to pass the Senate.  What happened and what’s next?

Broad bipartisan support was not enough to get a full mental health bill on the governor’s desk at this session.

House Bill 520, which passed the House of Representatives earlier in the session but never made it to a Senate vote, would have included funding for supportive housing, treatment and county-level mental health coordinators to work with the police.

Opponents named the potential prize.

“I know it was very popular on the House side, but we had a lot of members on the Senate side who had a hard time swallowing that number,” Lt. gov. Burt Jones of the Georgia Public Broadcasting Show “Lawmakers” on 03/29

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That number could have been as high as $72 million annually, according to a government analysis. Additionally, one-time fees totaling about $3.7 million were too high a price to pay for a Senate agreement.

Also, government spending or tax revenues do not reflect cost savings due to legislation, such as B. Savings for HB 520’s Medicaid program.

It was also reported that HB 520 was being held by the Senate as leverage for a bill that failed in the House of Representatives, Senate Bill 99. SB 99 would have changed the regulations for building rural hospitals and would have eliminated needs confirmation requirements in certain areas.

The chambers appeared to have reached an impasse as neither was willing to compromise on either bill in the final days of the legislature. On March 29, House lawmakers amended another bill, Senate Bill 23, to salvage a data-sharing element of the mental health bill. That account passed 48-1.


This year’s mental health law addresses the needs of people transitioning between homelessness, the emergency room and prison, said Whitney Griggs, health policy analyst for Georgians for a Healthy Future. They are people with severe and persistent mental illnesses who fall through the cracks of the system, she said.

She added that not a single system – the housing system, the health care system, the justice system – is really designed to meet the needs of these individuals.

The populace that HB 520 sought to help, so-called “familiar faces,” gobbles up a huge chunk of state resources and state dollars, Griggs said, which is why it’s important to address the system that causes those faces to cycle through those three locations.

She said the bill “did things like banning local housing companies from not providing housing to someone because they had a criminal background”.

And proponents insist that early intervention is the best way to proactively take care of Georgians’ health.

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One example is proposed House Bill 226 by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, who chairs Georgia House’s Public and Community Health Committee. The bill never made it to the Senate vote, but serves as an example of the state footing the bill for part of the social safety net.

Untreated illnesses contribute to crises that require more emergency room visits, hospitalizations and inpatient treatment options, Cooper said, estimating that treating people with HIV costs the state about $10,000 a year.

“If you go to a full-blown case of AIDS, it’s about $30,000 a year,” Cooper said. “So it’s definitely a savings for the state to take care of these people.”

That $30,000 figure doesn’t include the cost of hospitalizations, which can cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, she said.

Likewise, when the criminal justice system is taxed and the state foots the bill, the costs add up.

The Georgia Department of Corrections’ annual budget is approximately $1.32 billion, and recent fiscal-over-fiscal increases totaling nearly $38 million are primarily due to the creation of four new correctional departments: County Correctional Institutions, engineering and construction services, investigations and prohibitions, and rehabilitation and risk reduction, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

“Combined with the intensification of Legislature’s law and order proposals, these latest steps are ominous steps toward future budget proposals for fixes that will result in rising prison numbers,” the institute said as Gov. Brian Kemp proposed its 2024 budget.

There is about $2.3 million in annual costs associated with providing dedicated coordinators for collaboration between criminal justice and behavioral health professionals, said Roland Behm of the Georgia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, noting that the cost of providing Funding for a pilot program in county jails to conduct validated behavioral testing is part of the $2 million to $10 million annual cost.

HB 520 alone did not allow either program without funding or funds.


The real problem with opposition to the law is that it’s rooted in mental health stigma, Griggs said.

“We have heard concerns about government prosecution and overreach, and even that this bill was an extension of Medicaid,” she said. “And as an organization dedicated to Medicaid expansion, I can 100% promise that hasn’t been the case.”

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She added that the bill also directed the Department of Corrections to investigate the effectiveness of providing all-round services, including some medical care, to people released from prison.

“I think we’re really losing treatment for this very small but very vulnerable subset of people,” Griggs said.

Georgia Council for Recovery’s Jeff Breedlove called the law “delayed, not dead” because this is the first year of a two-year legislative session and the law could pass in 2024.

Overall, he said he was optimistic.

“For the second year in a row, our leaders have spoken about mental health and addiction recovery,” said Breedlove. “And it may not be the exact result that a lot of people have been looking for, but the good news for my community is that we’re moving the ball forward. We’re going to tackle the broken system. We turn a system into a life-saving system. So there is still a lot to do.”