The Jolt: For mental health overhaul, ‘truth is a powerful force’

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Speaker David Ralston  (R-GA) speaks at the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Speaker David Ralston (R-GA) speaks at the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A sweeping overhaul of the state’s mental health system will soon be signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp. But just days ago, the most significant bipartisan legislation of this year’s session seemed headed for a far different fate.

Even though it was championed by House Speaker David Ralston and a coterie of powerful bipartisan leaders, the measure was targeted by a group of far-right advocates who rallied against it by spreading mistruths and misinformation.

They erroneously claimed the mental health legislation would amount to a vast government takeover and, in a callback to the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory, bizarrely contended it would protect pedophiles from prosecution. Senators preparing to vote on the bill were inundated with emails from constituents and activists infused with the lies.

For a few days, senior lawmakers worried the measure would be held up or hollowed out. Many worried that a House-Senate fight over the proposal would dominate the closing days of the session — and send a signal to Georgians that their politicians couldn’t respond to one of the most important crises of our time.

The Georgia General Assembly proved otherwise. In a rare unanimous vote by both chambers, state legislators approved an overhaul that will make it easier for Georgians in crisis to access mental health services and substance abuse treatment.

Key to the effort’s success were the years of work that went into it behind the scenes, including a two-year study committee headed by former state Rep. Kevin Tanner. And unlike most big-ticket efforts these days, the legislative effort was led by a Republican, state Rep. Todd Jones, and a Democrat, state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, who early on urged their colleagues to suggest changes as the process went on.

Weeks of committee hearings led by state Rep. Sharon Cooper and, later, state Sen. Ben Watson dug into the fine print. Everyone from parents to caseworkers to sheriffs weighed in. In the end, the years of legwork overcame the days of misinformation.

On the final vote, even the trio of House Republicans who initially opposed the bill – and, in some cases, egged on the backlash in the state Senate – ended up supporting the final version after some of their input was incorporated.

Ralston, who has called this the most important work of his career, praised the good-faith negotiations with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, his top aide Macy McFall and other Senate leaders that helped ensure the legislation didn’t get derailed by the Upper Chamber as feared.

He choked back tears as he celebrated its passage.

“We are reminded again today,” he said, “that truth is a powerful force.”


UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Thursday, March 31:

  • 9:00 a.m.: A full committee workday begins. We’re watching the Senate Rules Committee to see which bills will get the greenlight for consideration on the last two days of this legislative session.
  • The House and Senate stand adjourned until 10:00 a.m. Friday for Day 39.


In case you missed it Wednesday:

  • The House passed Senate Bill 319, the so-called Constitutional Carry bill to let Georgians carry a concealed firearm or weapon without a permit. It now goes back to the Senate for consideration;
  • The Senate passed* SB 403, a bill from state Sen. Ben Watson and pushed by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, to create a statewide “co-responder” program. The program helps law enforcement officers respond to calls involving people in mental health crisis with support from mental health professionals. It now to the House to agree or disagree (*an earlier version of the Jolt incorrectly said the bill passed the House.);
  • SB 226, a bill that gives school principals 7 days to decide whether to remove books and other content seen as “harmful to minors,” won final approval;
  • The state Senate passed House Bill 1146 to let state troopers put blue lights on the front or back of their cars instead of on top. It passed 49 to 5, and now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.


Our colleague Tamar Hallerman sends word that HB 1354, the bill standardizing the way Georgia compensates the wrongfully imprisoned, appears to be stalled in the state Senate.

The bill cruised through the House earlier this month. It hit the skids Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee after state Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, told the committee it needs more vetting.

“I’m not advocating for doing nothing, but this is admittedly a very complex matter and maybe how we’re doing it today is not the best way. I don’t know that this is the best way,” Kennedy said, referring to the bill. “I just think it deserves some real thoughtful consideration.”

Judiciary Chairman Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, told the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, that the panel wants to work with him in the year ahead after they spend more time reviewing it.

As Hallerman wrote earlier this month, critics say that Georgia’s current process for paying people who have been wrongfully convicted and later exonerated is slow, inconsistent and often political.

Even with the bill stuck in committee, it’s possible similar language could find its way onto legislation moving through the Senate before Sine Die Monday.

Holcomb told Hallerman yesterday the bill has support from prosecutors, chiefs of police, and defense lawyers. “There’s significant support and a lot of work went into it,” he said. “Supporters would like to see it move this year, and that is being explored.”


POSTED: A measure intended to bring down the cost of insulin for people with diabetes by capping prices at $35 a month is headed to the U.S. House floor for a vote later today.

We told you yesterday that we heard rumors the insulin bill might be added to this week’s agenda, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer made it official Wednesday afternoon.

Both Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath are heavily involved in pushing the issue in their respective chambers. Both have scheduled news conferences ahead of the vote to champion the legislation.

The biggest question is how many Republicans will join Democrats in supporting a measure that is popular among voters.


Civil rights attorney Sarah Geraghty is expected to be confirmed later today to serve as a judge for the Atlanta-based federal court.

President Joe Biden nominated Geraghty to an empty seat on the U.S. District Court in Northern Georgia based on the recommendation of Georgia U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Also appointed with Geraghty was Victoria Calvert, who was confirmed earlier this month.


The U.S. Senate late Wednesday confirmed Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University professor, to serve as special envoy in the U.S. State Department with a mission to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.

Lipstadt specializes in modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory and is the founding director of its Institute for Jewish Studies. She was confirmed by voice vote. President Joe Biden appointed her to the role, which comes with a rank equal to that of an ambassador.

Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish, delivered a rare floor speech to call for Lipstadt’s appointment to be brought to the Senate floor. He spoke about his great-grandparents who arrived in America in the early 1900s after fleeing anti-Semitism in eastern Europe.


A tax proposal that popped up in the state Senate this week could stifle Georgia’s booming film and TV industry by putting limits on the tax credits used by production companies.

The bill would cap the credits at $900 million a year, where currently there is no limit, the AJC’s Rodney Ho writes. But perhaps more impactful is the legislation would make these credits non-transferable to other parties. Since most major studios shooting in Georgia are based in California or New York, the tax credits themselves have little direct value without this provision.

Because of the huge impact of the legislation and its late arrival, it is a longshot to become law this legislative session. But the studios are on notice that some Republican leaders are willing to curtail benefits to an industry often aligned with liberal politics.


Our condolences to the family and friends of Roy Nunnally Roberts Sr., the longtime chairman of the Walton County Republican Party, who died Wednesday morning. As the Walton County Tribune noted in its obituary, his family’s farm was the home to an annual barbecue that drew hundreds of the GOP faithful — and the politicians who hoped to curry their favor.


As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to, and

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