Earthquake in the U.S. Today, April 16: Exact Time, Magnitude, and Epicenter Location – Live via USGS

The United States experiences a series of natural phenomena that occasionally pose a risk to the population, such as earthquakes. Common in the U.S., these events prompted state lawmakers two years ago to rally behind a landmark proposal to lift Georgia from its low national ranking for access to mental health services.

Following a small-scale experiment in June, the initiative hit a snag last year when a follow-up bill stalled in the Senate due to opposition from far-right activists and became mired in end-of-session bartering between the chambers.

Some measures, such as an in-depth examination of service gaps in the state’s safety net, were implemented administratively without legislative backing. However, proposals to bolster the state’s behavioral health workforce had to wait another year.

This year, lawmakers from both chambers managed to push through several smaller bills with provisions designed to build on the 2022 law, sending them to the governor’s desk.

Instead of the lengthy, sprawling bills of the last two measures—77 and 51 pages respectively—proponents of mental health reforms this year introduced a flurry of bite-sized proposals. Additionally, new funding for mental health was included in the budget, notably boosting the state’s behavioral health crisis system.

The abundance and variety of mental health-related proposals this session made them at times difficult to track. “The momentum for mental health is continuing,” Kim Jones, executive director of NAMI Georgia, said at one point during the session. “The great thing about this year is we have so many mental health bills. The hard thing about this year is we have so many mental health bills.”

Most bills received bipartisan support, although a few had a bumpier ride during this election-year session and were hijacked in the Senate to advance controversial proposals, like a late-session proposal to ban puberty-blocking medication for transgender minors.

House lawmakers successfully used a legislative maneuver to revive one of the stalled proposals. A proposal requiring opioid-reversing drugs to be kept in most state and local government buildings was tacked onto another bill allowing naloxone in K-12 schools.

However, some measures still fell short. A bill designed to address mental health and suicide risks for student athletes never recovered from its transformation into a vehicle for culture war proposals in the Senate.

Another stalled bill would have allowed an alternative to discipline for nurses dealing with substance use disorders or mental conditions, a program already in place for physicians, pharmacists, and dentists. This bill easily cleared the House but stalled in the Senate, and a last-ditch attempt in the House to graft it onto other legislation went nowhere.

“There’s a barrier, if you will, that might prevent a nurse from coming forward and saying, ‘I’ve got a problem,’” said Savannah Republican Rep. Ron Stephens, a pharmacist who sponsored the bill. “And, of course, that is not what we want in the health care field at all. And this, of course, I believe, will remove that barrier so that the person who has a problem will be more likely to step up to get help.”

This year’s efforts are largely focused on boosting Georgia’s behavioral health workforce, whether through speeding up the licensing process for marriage and family therapists who are in good standing in other states or offering loan forgiveness for mental health and substance use professionals working in underserved or hard-hit areas.

“The missing piece, I’m afraid, is workforce and mental health care providers,” said Sen. Larry Walker III, a Perry Republican who sponsored one of this year’s bills. “So, without access to qualified mental health professionals, all of these efforts that we’ve done really will be in vain.”

Another bill awaiting the governor’s attention—and a holdover from last year’s failed measure—aims to bolster the state’s efforts to provide jail-based competency restoration programs.

“I’ve heard people say time and time again that there are examples of people who may sit longer in jail waiting to be declared competent to go to trial than they would actually sit if they were found guilty of the offense they’re charged with,” said Sen. Brian Strickland, a McDonough Republican who sponsored the bill.