Mental health law and teacher pay raises among new Georgia laws

House members throw up paper at the conclusion of the legislative session in the House Chamber on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday, April 5, 2022.   Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

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House members throw up paper at the conclusion of the legislative session in the House Chamber on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Bills passed earlier this year become law of the state

Beginning Friday, dozens of laws that Georgia legislators passed earlier this year go into effect, including expanded mental health services, teacher pay raises and Medicaid benefits for new mothers.

Many of the laws that start Friday coincide with the beginning of the government’s fiscal year, when agencies have fresh annual budgets to spend.

Other high-profile laws approved this year are already in force, such as measures that allow Georgians to carry concealed handguns without first getting a license from the state, an income tax refund and a suspension of gas taxes.

Mental health

Georgia’s overhaul of the mental health system aimed to increase access to mental health and substance abuse care.

The bill included several new programs that are estimated to cost between $63 million and $94 million a year, much of which is covered by the fiscal 2023 budget that takes effect Friday. State agencies can use those funds to create grant programs for outpatient treatment and accountability courts that would serve mental health patients and those with substance abuse issues, to forgive student loans for mental health providers who work in underserved areas of the state and to take other steps to improve care.

Other pieces of House Bill 1013 also go into effect Friday. Those include creating expanded powers of the state’s insurance and public health commissioners to ensure that insurance companies are covering mental health the same way as physical health and establishing guidelines for law enforcement agencies to create a “co-responder program” where behavioral health professionals join police officers when responding to emergency calls involving a mental health crisis.

$30 billion budget

Teachers will receive a $2,000 pay raise in the $30.2 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins Friday.

The budget also gives pay increases to state employees in hard-to-fill jobs, including corrections and mental health agencies. The teacher and state employee pay raises amount to a $950 million increase in state payroll.

The annual spending plan, House Bill 911, funds a wide variety of government services, including education, prisons, health, transportation, the GBI, the Georgia State Patrol and state parks.

Postpartum Medicaid

The state budget includes money that will pay to extend the amount of time low-income Georgia mothers can receive benefits under Medicaid — the public health program for the poor and disabled — from six months to one year after the birth of a child.

The new budget sets aside $28.2 million to expand the program for postpartum mothers. In 2020, the Legislature allocated $20 million to extend maternal Medicaid benefits from two months to six after the birth of a child.

Divisive concepts

A new law dictates how race is taught in K-12 classrooms and limits transgender students from competing in sports.

The law outlines nine “divisive concepts” and prohibits saying in school that America is a fundamentally racist country, that moral character is racially determined or that one race is inherently superior, according to House Bill 1084.

The measure also allows athletic associations to ban transgender girls from competing with girls’ teams, a restriction that the Georgia High School Association put in place with a vote in May.

ExploreNew education laws in Georgia July 1

Pension increase

Georgia lawmakers voted to boost their pensions 38% during the final minutes of this year’s legislative session.

The increase particularly benefits House Speaker David Ralston, whose annual pension value quadrupled.

House Bill 824 bumped pension payments to $50 per month for each year that legislators serve in the General Assembly, up from the current amount of $36 per month. The speaker’s pension grew to $250 per month for each year of service, giving Ralston a total annual pension valued at nearly $47,000.

Lawmakers supporting the pension bill said they wanted to find ways to supplement their base pay of $22,342 per year.