2022 Session: Week 9 Update
Last week was i n c redibly busy at the Geor gia State Capitol as we completed our final legislative days before Crossover Day. We took advantage of a full committee work day and spent three long days in the House Chamber voting on numerous bills, including the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, mental health care reform legislation, and many other measures that will impact Georgians. Several are highlighted below. I was honored last Tuesday to introduce Rev. Tony Wardlaw, pastor of Green Grove Missionary Baptist Church, as the House Chaplain of the Day. He brought his wife, Mrs. Stephanie Wardlaw, a teacher at J.R. Trippe Middle School in Vidalia, as his guest. Each legislative day, my colleagues and I begin our work with scripture reading, a message, and prayer from the Chaplain. I asked Pastor Wardlaw to serve because of his commitment to the Word of God, our community, and his eloquent manner of sharing of the Gospel.
Fiscal Year 2023 Budget
Our only constitutional duty is passing a balanced budget, and on Friday, the House came one step closer to fulfilling that obligation by passing House Bill 911, the FY 2023 budget. This budget dedicates all our state funds for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2022. The FY 2023 budget is set at a revenue estimate of $30.2 billion and permanently restores nearly $640 million eliminated from the budget in FY 2021 during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting needs in law enforcement, the court system, the medical examiner’s office, mental healthcare professionals and facilities, and fully funding our public school’s QBE formula were among the priorities. Mental Health Parity Act
We passed one of the most important, bipartisan bills of the entire session last week with House Bill 1013, the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act. It would provide comprehensive changes to our mental health care system and give Georgians struggling with mental illness the resources they need. This legislation would also help improve insurance coverage and the delivery of mental health care, and I would like to highlight a few of the bill’s impactful measures.
HB 1013 would require health insurance plans, including our state health care plans, to provide parity for mental health and substance use disorders so that they are treated and covered in a similar manner to physical care. It would be extended to a spouse and dependents covered under the same plan. HB 1013 would also modify how our law enforcement officers interact with individuals who may require involuntary treatment so that they may receive an emergency evaluation without being charged with a crime first. This legislation would create a task force specifically designed to help communities coordinate activities that would keep patients with severe mental illness out of jails and detention facilities. The bill would allow the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination (OHSC) to partner with our state’s correctional and juvenile justice agencies to evaluate wraparound services for the state reentry plan, as well as partner with the Department of Community Supervision to share mental health data between agencies to facilitate tracking and treating of people under community supervision.
HB 1013 also includes several provisions to improve access to child and adolescent behavioral health care. Under the bill, the OHSC would oversee the coordination of behavioral health services for children, adolescents, and adults by monitoring ways to expand access to children’s behavioral health services across the state. By October 2024, the state would be required to implement a statewide data sharing system between our agencies to protect and better care for Georgia children.
Finally, this bill would task the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission and its subcommittees with continuing their vital work through 2025. The commission’s Mental Health Courts and Corrections Subcommittee would be authorized to submit recommendations to DBHDD to help expand the state’s co-response program and continue exploring community supervision strategies.
Of the almost 10.8 million people living in Georgia, approximately 10 percent have been diagnosed with a mental illness. It is my hope that this legislation will serve as a message to those who are in crisis and their families that they are not alone and that help is available. Despite this bill’s length and comprehensive scope, our work will not stop with its passage. The Georgia Mental Health Parity Act is only the foundation of our work to overhaul a broken mental health care system. The work to improve it will continue over the coming years. Georgia Tax Reduction and Reform Act We passed House Bill 1437, or the Georgia Tax Reduction and Reform Act of 2022, to cut income taxes for Georgians starting in 2024. HB 1437 would eliminate personal income tax brackets and replace them with a single, flat rate of 5.25 percent. This legislation would also create a standard exemption of $12,000 for single or head-of-household filers and a $24,000 exemption for married couples who file jointly. HB 1437 would allow taxpayers to choose to apply the sum of their charitable donations used in computing the taxpayer’s federal taxable income in lieu of the personal exemption. Proponents of this bill estimate that Georgians would save about $1 billion per year when the cut goes into effect. Georgia Stands with the Nation of Ukraine Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, our state government took immediate steps to express its desire to end these vile hostilities, including divesting all state investments in Russian-associated equities and other assets. This week, my colleagues and I unanimously adopted House Resolution 920 to formally show our solidarity with Ukrainians and to strongly condemn the Russian invasion and call on Vladimir Putin to end this unprovoked aggression. This resolution commends Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine who have courageously defended their country and homes. In this resolution, the Georgia House also calls on both President Biden and the U.S. Congress to take swift, prudent actions to bring about a peaceful and timely end to this conflict. I am proud that the Georgia House is on record that we are against Putin and his government’s horrific acts against the sovereign nation of Ukraine and its people.
Gas Tax Suspension
On Friday evening, we passed critical legislation to provide relief to Georgians at the gas pump. The price of gas has increased dramatically over the past year and has skyrocketed even further since the Russian invasion into Ukraine began. We expect gas prices to continue to rise, especially since President Biden halted the import of Russian oil into our country. We appreciate the president for taking a stand and putting economic pressure on Putin. However, Georgians are experiencing the fallout. In response, we passed House Bill 304 as the request of Governor Kemp to allow him to suspend the state motor fuel excise tax, which is about 27 cents per gallon. We will continue to closely monitor how the Russian invasion will impact us here at home, and we anticipate that our colleagues in the Senate will also pass this legislation so Governor Kemp can sign it into law as soon as possible.
Known for being one of the longest days of the session, Crossover Day is the last day that a bill can pass out of its chamber of origin. This year, Crossover Day is March 15. Please continue to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have about legislation, policies or issues that impact the 156th district. My Capitol email is Leesa.Hagan@house.ga.gov. It is an honor to serve as your state representative, and I thank you for allowing me to do so.
By Leesa Hagan R-Vidalia (District 156, Georgia House of Representatives)