The Jolt: Speaker David Ralston introducing rare bill of his own, for mental health

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
 Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston speaks at a news conference announcing $1,000 bonuses for state and local law enforcement and EMTs at the capital Monday, September 27, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston speaks at a news conference announcing $1,000 bonuses for state and local law enforcement and EMTs at the capital Monday, September 27, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Of the many powers and prerogatives that House Speaker David Ralston exercises, introducing his own bills is almost never one of them.

That will change today, when Ralston puts the force of his Speakership behind a piece of legislation for only the second time ever when he introduces a bipartisan bill to address Georgia’s acute shortage of mental health care services.

The issue has become his top priority, as investigations have shown Georgia last in the nation for mental health care and the crisis has worsened in his own community-- and hundreds of other cities and towns across Georgia.

On a visit to Blue Ridge by one of your Insiders over the summer, Ralston said, ”People think this is heaven up here...But there are people here struggling with real problems.”

Look for a Capitol press conference this morning, with lead co-sponsors state Reps. Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, and Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, on hand to detail what’s in the comprehensive bill.

We’re told it will include plans to expand Georgians’ access to care; increase the number of mental health professionals in the state; require parity in coverage; give first responders help when they’re called into a mental health crisis; and improve data and transparency in the sector.

The Republican’s plan is the result of recommendations from the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission, which developed more than 50 recommendations to change Georgia’s laws.

The report released last year warned of “vast unmet children’s mental health services” and encouraged the state to treat mental health on the same level it treats physical health.

“There is no more important issue that we can address this year than mental health,” Ralston told GPB’s “Political Rewind” Monday.


Speaking of the Speaker, his time with Bill Nigut and Jolter Emeritus Jim Galloway yielded an extremely newsy edition of Monday’s “Political Rewind” on GPB.

Asked about former Sen. David Perdue’s challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp, Ralston said:

“It's a free country and I mean, he's free to run as is any Georgian. I'm trying to understand his rationale. A rationale that says, ‘We're divided and I'm going to unify us by further dividing us.' I'm sure that there is a deep meaning there that I'm not grasping yet. So I'm trying to get my brain wrapped around what the rationale is for running…And having said all of that, I'm not endorsing anybody."

- Speaker David Ralston, GPB's Political Rewind

Ralston also talked about new Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who spoke to the state House Monday to applause and standing ovations- and not just from Democrats.

Ralston said he appreciated Dickens’ outreach to state leaders (he called the Speaker at 7:00 a.m. on the morning after election night), and felt that Dickens’ plans to unite the city and address crime directly aligned with his own goals for the rest of Georgia. “I’m expecting him to be a great mayor, frankly,” Ralston said.


UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Legislative Day 7:

  • 8:00 a.m.: Committee meetings begin;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The House convenes;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The Senate gavels in;
  • 11:00 a.m.: Speaker David Ralston press conference on mental health.


Another anti-vaccine passport bill made its way into the Senate hopper on Tuesday, this time from state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta.

This comes a day after we told you about a sloppily written similar effort from Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, whose bill was written so vaguely that lawmakers and legal experts said it would abolish vaccine requirements entirely for the state’s public schools.

Under Beach’s proposal, Senate Bill 372, no one would be required to get a vaccine that’s only been authorized for emergency use – like the COVID-19 vaccine.

Our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu reports it would prohibit the government, an employer or a public accommodation from requiring someone to have an “immunity passport” – defined in the bill as “a document, digital record, or software application” that indicates vaccination status.

It would also be illegal to discriminate against someone based on their vaccination status.

Where Mullis’ bill was vague, Beach’s bill is more clear. Mullis is a cosigner on SB 372.

If passed, the legislation would not apply to schools. And it would still allow health care facilities, personal care homes and assisted living communities to require vaccination and/or disclosure of employees’ vaccination status in certain circumstances.


Oh boy. The Augusta Chronicle reports that Teresa MacCartney, the acting chancellor of the University System of Georgia, sent a request out last week to the presidents and provosts of University System of Georgia schools asking if “privilege” and “oppression” are being taught on their campuses.

The letter follows an inquiry from state Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, chairman of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee, and asks three questions about curriculum, including:

“Are any classes within the Georgia public school system or the University System of Georgia teaching students who identify as white, male, heterosexual, or Christian are intrinsically privileged and oppressive, which is defined as “malicious or unjust” and “wrong?”


If you can’t get enough of your Jolters, be sure to listen to the latest edition of our Politically Georgia podcast, posting this morning with the latest on the Kemp-Perdue showdown, a special appearance by the City Hall team, and all things #gapol.


Stacey Abrams won the endorsement of End Citizens United/Let America Vote as she makes a second run for governor.

The left-leaning group touted her support for expanded voting rights, Medicaid expansion and work to limit the power of dark money in politics.

“As governor, she will protect access to the ballot box and ensure that the state of Georgia works for the people, not for corporate, big money special interests,” said Tiffany Muller, the group’s president.


In case you needed another sign that 2020 will dominate Georgia Republican politics in 2022: State Senate Leader Butch Miller’s new digital ad for his campaign for lieutenant governor leads with his support of the election rewrite.


Vice News has a chilling piece up about the death threats that Trump supporters made against former Fulton County Elections chief Rick Barron and other Georgia officials following the 2020 elections.

Many of the people who threatened to kill the officials also left their phone numbers as a part of their messages, so the Vice News reporters called them back as a part of their story.

Said one Tennessee man, “Anybody that’s threatened by what I’ve said, that is because you’re only threatened because you’re guilty.”


POSTED: With the White House rebooting negotiations with Congress on a climate change and social spending package, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock wants to ensure that a renewal of monthly advanced child tax credit payments is a top priority.

He and four other Democratic senators are sending a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris today asking them to make the program a “centerpiece” of discussions on a revamped Build Back Better package.

Parents of roughly 2 million Georgia children received the monthly payments during the final six months of 2021.

The White House has renewed talks with senators to pass the bill, but remains tight-lipped about who the president and VP are speaking with and what’s on the table.


All eight Georgia Democrats in Congress are sending a letter to the state Department of Transportation today asking for the agency’s five-year plan on how it will use infrastructure dollars earmarked for public transit in the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.

Georgia is set to receive nearly $1.4 billion over five years for public transportation – including $923 million for metro Atlanta. The new law also includes language that gives states more flexibility in how Federal Highway Administration funding can be used for bus and rail systems.

The letter also asks the board to repeal a GDOT policy prohibiting state gas tax revenue from being used for public transit.


POSTED: Nearly every member of the U.S. House has taken advantage of a rule change to cast votes remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, including Republicans who criticize the practice.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the change. Lower and appeals courts upheld the rule, and the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the case.

Georgia U.S. Reps. Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk were among the original plaintiffs in a legal challenge of the proxy voting rules. U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson was among the GOP leaders who signed a letter last year asking for the practice to end.

All three have voted remotely at least twice.

All six Democrats in Georgia’s congressional delegation, plus five of eight Republicans have voted by proxy. The three who have not are GOP U.S. Reps. Rick Allen, Andrew Clyde and Austin Scott.


Our deepest condolences are going out to the many friends, family and former coworkers of Mike Boyce, the former Cobb County Commission chairman who died Tuesday.

Boyce, a Republican, lost election in 2020 after a long career in public service, including 30 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He made one of his final official acts in office smoothing the transition of power to new Democratic chairwoman Lisa Cupid, who said Tuesday she was “devastated” by the news.

“He loved the county and our country and dedicated himself to making Cobb a better and more inclusive place for everyone,” Cupid said.


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