The Georgia General Assembly concluded the legislative business on March 24. DBHDD’s bill (SB 271) passed both chambers and is awaiting the Governor Deal’s review and signature. This bill makes changes to specific administrative procedures in designated emergency receiving facilities and psychiatric hospitals. Senator Dean Burke and Representative Buddy Harden were crucial in ensuring the bill’s passage through the General Assembly.
The General Assembly also passed the annual budget which included DBHDD’s recommendations. Below are some of the highlights of the budget:
- $8,895,654 for salary adjustments for direct care staff to reduce turnover and improve recruitment.
- $11,900,000 to reflect a provider rate increase for the Comprehensive Supports Waiver Program (COMP) for individuals with developmental disabilities.
- $1,223,897 for 100 additional slots for the New Options Waiver (NOW).
- $5,700,000 for one Behavioral Health Crisis Center to address emergency crisis needs for individuals with mental illnesses.
- $5,065,000 in bonds for a 40-bed forensic unit at Georgia Regional Hospital: Atlanta.
Two other bills of interest include HB 768, which would establish the ABLE Program Corporation and ABLE Trust Fund. The bill would also authorize the ABLE board to establish a program for tax-exempt savings for people with disabilities.
HB 900 would give pharmacists the ability to delegate the retrieval and review of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program information to technicians “for the purposes of determining misuse, abuse, or underutilization of prescribed medication.”
The Georgia Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Bill would allow people with disabilities to establish tax-free savings accounts to be used for a variety of essential expenses, including education, employment training, medical care, housing and transportation. The accounts would be similar to 529 accounts for college, and are also known as 529A Plans.
In 2014, Congress passed the federal ABLE Act, giving states the ability to create their own programs. Most states have introduced or signed legislation enabling the ABLE Act with Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Nebraska launching their programs in the next few months. Recent federal legislation eliminated the state residency requirement, which allows individuals setting up ABLE accounts to choose any state program.
Georgia’s version of the ABLE Act allows total annual after-tax contributions of up to $14,000 from family, friends, or the beneficiary himself. The balances of an individual account cannot exceed $235,000. Once an account balance exceeds $100,000, Social Security income benefits are suspended, but Medicaid eligibility remains.
Before ABLE accounts, an individual with disabilities was only allowed personal liquid assets up to $2,000 before losing Medicaid benefits.
Eligibility for an ABLE account is limited to individuals whose disabilities occurred before age 26.
The ADA Legacy Tour is a traveling exhibit designed to raise awareness and build excitement about the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Road to Freedom ADA Bus is traveling across the country and has made stops in several Georgia cities, including Atlanta, Augusta and Gainesville.
The tour features a “Museum of disABILITY History” display on the history of self-advocacy; the ADA quilt where thousands of signatures represent those who have participated in the tour; educational displays on the history of disability; and workshops and other programs provided by local hosts.
Last week, the tour made a stop at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Along with the traveling displays, there were information booths, balloon artists, door prizes. Souvenir bags were also given to those who attended the event.
The ADA is an equal opportunity law for people with disabilities. Signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, it is one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination and ensuring that people with disabilities have the chance to lead fulfilling lives in their communities.
The Georgia General Assembly adjourned Sine Die on Thursday, April 2. DBHDD offered the following bills which now await signature by Governor Deal:
House Bill 288 will add two new members to the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council.
House Bill 512 will update Georgia law to align with changes occurring in DBHDD’s internal reorganization. Additionally, it clarifies the role of the current “regional planning boards” and renames them “regional advisory councils.”
Senate Bill 131 will modify the DBHDD crisis stabilization unit (CSU) licensing authority to a certifying authority, which will allow DBHDD to quickly adopt standards of care based upon the changing needs of the individuals seeking at those service sites.
Friday marked day 30 of the 2015 legislative session. Day 30 is also known as Crossover Day because all bills must pass out of their originating chamber, and therefore cross over to the other chamber, by this date in order to have a chance to become laws this year.
DBHDD Agency Legislation
House Bill 288 will add two new members to the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council. It passed out of the House on day 29 and is currently in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
House Bill 512 will update the Georgia Code to align with changes occurring in DBHDD’s reorganization. Additionally, it redefines the role of the current regional planning boards and renames them regional advisory councils. It passed out of the House on day 29 and is currently in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Senate Bill 131 will modify DBHDD’s crisis stabilization unit (CSU) licensing authority to a certifying authority. This will allow DBHDD to quickly adopt standards of care based on the changing needs of the individuals at those service sites. It passed out of the Senate on day 26 and is currently in the House Health and Human Services Committee.
Two notable resolutions include House Resolution 641, which will create the Joint Study Committee on Children’s Mental Health, and House Resolution 642, which will create the Joint Study Committee on Postsecondary Education and Employment Options for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
Governor Nathan Deal has already signed one bill of importance to DBHDD into law. Senate Bill 53 extends a provision created by last year’s Senate Bill 65, which permitted licensed professional counselors to perform emergency examinations of individuals experiencing mental health or drug- and alcohol-related crises. The original bill established a pilot provision that expired on March 15, 2015. Senate Bill 53 extends the provision until June 30, 2018.