The bipartisan bill to expand mental health services remained in limbo in Georgia’s parliament

Only a small portion of Georgia’s bipartisan mental health bill survived legislative politics in 2023.

Advocates and advocates for improving access to behavioral health services in Georgia had rallied behind what was seen as the next step in reforming the state’s system and were pursuing the work became champion last year by the late Speaker of the House David Ralston.

The bipartisan measure cleared the house He received overwhelming support earlier this month but slowed in the Senate and failed to meet the deadline for passing bills out of committee. HB 520 stays alive for next year.

“I would be remiss if I did not express my disappointment that the Senate has chosen not to act on a priority of this House,” House Speaker Jon Burns, a Republican from Newington, told the Senate early Thursday morning reporters.

Burns said the House is focusing on those who feel they have nowhere to turn for help.

“I’m sorry they have to wait another year. But make no mistake, our work will continue,” he said. “This will continue to be our priority, as it has been for the last two years. That won’t change.”

On Wednesday, the final day of the 2023 legislative session, state senators saved part of the bill that would streamline the sharing of aggregate data between state agencies to guide future policymaking. This provision was added to another The invoice Dealing with inactive state bodies.

“I will vote for them because they offer a tiny bit of reform, but I have to express my real disappointment that we are not making as much progress on mental health reform as the House of Representatives wanted in 2023,” she said MP Mary Margaret Oliver. a Decatur Democrat and one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

The Republican sponsor, Rep. Todd Jones, struck a more optimistic tone afterward, saying he was not disappointed and would continue working on the bill during the legislative offseason.

“In my opinion, good politics is good politics, and it will be good politics in 2023 and good politics in 2024,” the South Forsyth lawmaker said early Thursday morning.

A Senate panel introduced a scaled-down version of the proposal last week, but it never received a committee vote.

The measure appeared to get caught up in haggling between the two chambers at the end of the session.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones backed a proposal to make it easier to build hospitals in counties with fewer than 50,000 residents that haven’t voted out of a House committee. Jones’ father owns property in Butts County that is considered a potential site for a new hospital that would be covered by the bill.

Both chambers have established study committees to look at hospital regulations under the state’s certificate of need program and how they might be updated.

Burns acknowledged early Thursday morning that the Senate’s hospitalization bill was a factor in the House’s mental health bill stalling this year, calling certification of need reform a “very complex issue” that is better addressed comprehensively should.

Jones told GPB lawmakers Wednesday that he had concerns about the price of the House mental health proposal, which is a state analysis The cost of the studies provided for in the legislation is up to $72 million per year, with one-time expenses of up to $3.7 million.

“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 digesting that number,” Jones said, referring to the cost.

Gov. Brian Kemp showed his support for the House’s work in remarks to the chamber late Wednesday night, saying lawmakers had introduced “another historic bill that is still being worked on” and that it was a credit to Ralston.

“Working on this issue has been a priority for both the House and my office, and whether it is this session or upcoming sessions, I know we will continue to work toward greater progress,” Kemp said.

Much of this year’s original bill focused on studies intended to lay a foundation for future decisions, such as a review of the state’s crisis bed capacity and an assessment of gaps in Georgia’s behavioral health workforce.

But some provisions of the bill would directly increase local aid in the near future. For example, one portion would use county-based coordinators who would work with a local criminal justice system and that community’s behavioral health providers to ensure available resources are utilized.

It also would have expanded a loan repayment program aimed at expanding the behavioral health workforce.

The most expensive recurring item was health-related social assistance—such as housing and employment—for eligible Medicaid recipients under 19 years of age. Such a change would require a federal review and cost the state treasury $45 million, plus an additional $90 million at the federal level. This was removed from the Senate’s pending version.

“HB 520 has seen a delay — not a defeat,” said Jeff Breedlove, director of communications and policy at the Georgia Council for Recovery and co-chair of a coalition of advocacy groups. “It is the responsibility of advocates to earn the vote. We still have a lot to do.”