A bill designed to address Georgia’s escalating mental health and substance use crisis continues to advance in the state Capitol.
House Bill 520 passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly on Thursday and will now go to the Senate for consideration.
The nearly 50-page bill calls for a unification of the state’s definition of “serious mental illness” to encourage easier collaboration between state agencies, courts, law enforcement and other stakeholders.
The bill provides that the standardized terminology will be proposed by December 1, 2023.
It would create incentives to increase the number of state-licensed mental health and treatment providers, including expanding a student loan forgiveness program for providers, and make it easier for state agencies to share information about patients in crisis.
It would look for ways to more effectively help Georgia’s small group of so-called “familiar faces” – people struggling with serious mental illness and commuting between prisons, homelessness and institutions – and a study on inpatient mental health beds and Fund substance use treatment to find out where it is needed most.
Along with Democratic Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur, Republican Rep. Todd Jones is a major sponsor of the bill.
“We don’t know what kind of beds we have. We don’t know the workforce that’s going to join that bed,” Jones said in the House of Representatives. “We don’t know the tariffs. We don’t know the terms. We don’t know the things we need to know.”
The proposal will also analyze existing data already collected by government agencies to better target services statewide.
In a statement, the Georgia Council for Recovery coalition welcomed the vote in the House of Representatives, saying HB 520 will “break with stigma and lay a foundation for building a reputable workforce that supports behavioral health services in communities across Georgia.”
The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 163 to 3.
The three House Representatives who voted against were Woodstock Republican Charlice Byrd, Ringgold Republican Mitchell Horner, and Dawsonville Republican Brent Cox.