Georgia House members applaud as the Mental Health Parity Act passes 166-0.

UPDATE 9:17 PM: ADDS Rep. Kin Schofield comment
UPDATE 8:23 pm: ADDS Rep. Rhonda Burnough comment
UPDATE 7:32 PM: ADDS Rep. Yasmin Neal comment

by Robin Kemp

The Georgia House voted 166-0 Wednesday to pass HB 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act. It now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill requires insurance companies to treat mental illness like any other health condition, as required by federal law. However, it’s up to states to enforce that.

Proponents blame the insurance lobby in Georgia for that lax enforcement, which the bill seeks to end.

The effort brought uncharacteristic bipartisan unity to the Gold Dome this session, where members and citizens whose families have had to deal with a lack of access to mental health insurance coverage testified as to the need for it.

State Rep. Yasmin Neal (D-74, Jonesboro)

“I am a former police officer who has had to answer the very mental health 911 calls this bill references,” said State Rep. Yasmin Neal (D-74, Jonesboro). “I have a special connection to this bill because my house bill, HB 570, was added to this mental health bill. My bill, 570, makes up section 4-4 of the [final] bill. I am humbled to have my bill, which was two years in the making, be included in such historic legislation that will truly help citizens suffering from mental health in the state. Hopefully, this measure will reduce their incarceration rates as well and provide proper support to law enforcement by having mental health personnel respond to 911 calls with them. I appreciate the Speaker, the authors of the bill, and the Senators for allowing me to collaborate with them on this effort to make our state better. Moments like this is why we serve.”

Neal’s contribution, which funds Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC) training for mental health co-responders, can be read on pages 50-52 of the bill.

State Rep. Rhonda Burnough (D-77, Riverdale)

Rep. Rhonda Burnough (D-77, Riverdale) concurred: “After listening to families struggle with the decision to call 911 on a family member who suffer from mental illness this will be a welcome relief,” she said. “No one wants their relative to be placed in jail for a condition that needs hospitalization. Our county has the money to build a mental health facility but we need the state to provide funding for the employees. I hope the state will consider building a regional center for individuals suffering from mental health [issues] on the South Side. This would be a welcome relief to our law enforcement and paramedics.”

Rep. Kim Schofield (D-60, East Point) cosponsored HB 49, which also was made part of the larger bill: “Today the Georgia General Assembly moved the needle forward. I am happy for the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act that helps address some of the needs of Georgians impacted by mental illnesses. I am proud to co-sponsor HB 49 was incorporated into Mental Health Parity Act. I am hopeful that there will be equitable resources and intervention for those in underserved communities and for incarcerated people.”

At present, Burnough told The Clayton Crescent, Clayton County only has access to four adult mental health treatment beds in Dekalb County, and those aren’t always available. Officials have been working on ways to address the lack of mental health treatment in the county. People in crisis might be taken to Southern Regional Medical Center or Emory. When some patients become violent, that puts healthcare staff who aren’t mental health professionals at risk, Burnough said. A county or regional facility dedicated specifically to mental health treatment would take that pressure off emergency rooms.

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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