April 23, 2024

Decatur legislators talk mental health, Medicaid, gun safety during town hall

“We didn’t get our mental health bill, but we moved forward after the 2023 session with a lot of budget infusions that were important,” Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D – Decatur) said.

By Zoe Seiler, Decaturish

Decatur, GA— On April 17, Decatur legislators gave an update on bills related to mental health, Medicaid expansion, and gun safety during a town hall at Decatur City Hall.

State Rep. Omari Crawford (D – Decatur) introduced House Bill 1104 this year, which aimed to create resources and obligate athletic associations to provide mental health support to student-athletes.

Crawford attended a symposium with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health last summer, where they discussed behavioral health and mental health.

“After learning some of that information, I sat down and had a conversation with Mary Margaret Oliver then and said, ‘you know what, I think there’s a lane for some legislation where we can help student athletes,’” Crawford said. “I love sports and participated in sports through college.”

It passed the House on Feb. 29 and was significantly amended by the Senate. About five other bills were added to the bill “that I don’t agree with at all,” Crawford said.

Senators added provisions banning transgender students from playing on sports teams or using restrooms conforming with their gender identity as well as a ban on sex education before 6th grade and provisions allowing parents to more easily monitor the books their children check out from school libraries, according to the Georgia Recorder.

The bill passed the Senate but was not brought up for another vote on the House floor on the last day of the legislative session.

“I was prepared to have to speak out against what was my bill. I can’t really claim it as my bill when you add 17 pages to it. It was a hard lesson,” Crawford said. “Our children will not be targeted.”

In terms of other mental health-related bills, a bill was not introduced this year for another significant reform to the mental health system in Georgia, but some progress was still made.

“We didn’t get our mental health bill, but we moved forward after the 2023 session with a lot of budget infusions that were important,” Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D – Decatur) said.

She added that the new behavioral health commissioner accomplished several things that HB 520 called for.

“We needed a bed study. We needed a study of work force salaries and adjustments. Both of those went ahead and were paid for,” Oliver said.

Oliver and Rep. Todd Jones sponsored HB 1013 in 2022, which addresses some mental health issues. But this year, they took a step back and let other legislators pass bills related to mental health reform that were taken from HB 520, which the pair introduced last year.

“The strategy worked because we have several new bills on licensure reform,” Oliver said. “We also dealt with some issues of alternative disciplinary practices for mental health providers. We did some work in relation to further creation of loan repayment and forgiveness programs that were for mental health workers.”

She said the best thing related to mental health was money included in the state budget to increase the Medicaid reimbursement rates for mental health.

“I feel very positively about the progress we made,” Oliver said.

Democrats have also been pushing for Medicaid expansion and saw some movement this session.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill earlier this month that focuses on the state’s certificate-of-need rules. It has been seen as a potential pathway to passing full Medicaid expansion in 2025, the Georgia Recorder reported.

HB 1339 revised the state’s certificate-of-need rules that control how many healthcare services are allowed in any given area of the state. The bill also creates a commission to examine healthcare issues affecting low-income and uninsured Georgians.

The nine-member panel must be established by July and will be led by a health policy expert who is appointed by Kemp. It is tasked with submitting a report by the end of the year and ahead of next year’s session, which starts in January, according to the Georgia Recorder.

Many states of coupled repealing certificate of need programs with expanding Medicaid, State Sen. Elena Parent (D – Senate District 44) said.

“Coming into this session, I think both of our caucuses had as a goal in mind that if we were going to repeal CON and satisfy this No. 1 demand issue from Lt. Gov. Burt Jones that we wanted to see progress on Medicaid expansion…,” Parent said.

She added that there were some minor breakthroughs this year. The senators had some lengthy negotiations regarding CON. In exchange for votes on CON, Democrats demanded that there be a vote on the Senate floor on Medicaid expansion.

“They ended up reneging, but what we did get was a hearing in regulated industries for the first time ever on Medicaid expansion and a tied vote, which meant that it failed,” Parent said.

She added that it was good news to have a public vote for the first time on Medicaid expansion, and it was supported by two Republicans on the Senate regulated industries committee, including the chairman of the rules committee.

“That sets us up really well for next year,” Parent said. “The CON that was passed lessened a lot of the current regulations, but it is not a full repeal of the CON.”

A few bills were introduced related to the safe storage of guns, although none of them passed the Legislature. Oliver and Crawrod worked on a bill that would have required guns owners to properly store weapons in safe storage boxes in vehicles.

“What we found is that there has been an increase of guns being stolen from cars and those guns are now being used to commit crimes,” Crawford said. “The bill that we drafted would help to decrease gun deaths and hopefully decrease gun violence if you had it properly stored in a safe storage [box] in your car.”

Parent added that another bill was also introduced that would’ve provided a $300 tax credit for either safe storage or weapons training. The bill made it out of a committee but did not pass in the Senate.