2016 Session Kicks Off, Gov. Deal to deliver State-of-the-State on Wednesday

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The 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly began yesterday, launching the second year of the 2015-16 term. Gov. Nathan Deal will address a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chamber on Wednesday, Jan. 13, for his annual State-of-the-State address. Watch the speech live at 11 a.m.

Connected to Public Policy will cover news from the Capitol beginning next week and provide updates on bills related to children and families each Tuesday throughout the session. This edition features reports from House and Senate study committees that met during the interim since the 2015 legislative session.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and Kinship Care
This House study committee, created by HR 474, held five public meetings throughout the state to hear from stakeholders concerned with challenges faced by grandparents and other family members serving as primary caregivers for children. The committee also examined the administration and effectiveness of state-funded programs designed to assist those providing kinship care.

The committee issued a final report with recommendations including:

  • Increasing the relative care subsidy (currently set at 80 percent of foster care payments) to match the foster care payment rate,
  • Allowing kinship caregivers access to the clothing subsidy available to foster care parents,
  • Ensuring more consistent funding for kinship care programs that assist with respite care and support in strengthening families, and
  • Replacing the current power of attorney form with a simple affidavit, similar to those used in California and Louisiana, to reduce challenges related to enrolling children in school and advocating on their behalf.

Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers
Established by HR 640, this House study committee met twice to examine the concept of school-based health centers, including looking at centers currently operating in Georgia. The committee issued a final report with recommendations for legislators interested in establishing school-based health centers in their communities that identifies three phases of creating one─planning, implementation, and sustainability─and provides information on executing each phase.

Children’s Mental Health
Created by HR 641, this House study committee examined the early intervention and prevention of mental health issues for Georgia children, as well as available resources and service delivery for children with mental health illnesses.

The committee held four public hearings and heard testimony from several stakeholders, including state agencies, the three major care-management organizations in Georgia, healthcare professionals, and advocacy organizations.

The committee issued a final report acknowledging Early Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) as a resource for identifying the physical, emotional, and developmental healthcare needs of low-income children and for improving their health. The committee recommended the development of a Children’s Mental Health State Strategic Plan, which would include annual recommendations from an advisory committee for the state budget and the development of a state mental health workforce plan across agencies.

Post-Secondary Education and Employment Options for Individuals with Disabilities
Established by HR 642, this House study committee assessed options available to young Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) that finish high school, including post-secondary education and employment opportunities. The committee also examined the merits of instituting an employment first policy in Georgia, which would establish employment in integrated settings as the priority option for individuals with IDD.

The committee filed a final report recommending the creation of an Employment First Georgia Council under the authority of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. The council would create a comprehensive strategic plan to identify educational and employment support already available as well as clarify service gaps.

Intellectual and Developmental Disability Community-Based Services
Federal mandates previously implemented in Georgia required that most individuals with IDD be moved from hospital to community settings. According to testimony from Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) Commissioner Frank Berry, the number of Georgians with IDD in hospital settings has dropped from over 2,000 to approximately 260.

This House study committee, created by HR 767, examined the needs and challenges of individuals with IDD in community-based settings and their providers, including increasing provider pay rates, training for providers, and regulatory and administrative requirements for providers. The committee has not issued a final report.

Welfare Fraud
This House committee, formed by HR 829, met four times to examine the increasing number of people receiving food stamps in Georgia and the possible need for enhanced eligibility verification measures.

The committee heard testimony from the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Community Health (DCH) regarding current efforts to combat fraud and abuse as well as from private vendors interested in working with the state to detect abuses. DCH is leading efforts to create an integrated eligibility system to help all state agencies that provide benefits to better address violations.

Youth Mental Health and Substance Disorders
This Senate study committee resulted from the merger of two committees created by SR 487 and SR 594, and was charged with examining the screening and prevention of youth substance abuse as well as the rate at which attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related disorders are diagnosed in children.

The committee met five times and heard testimony from the Department of Education, DBHDD, DCH, health professionals representing psychiatry and psychology, nurses, and addiction counselors. They also heard from the three major care-management organizations in Georgia: Amerigroup, Peach State, and WellCare.

The committee issued a final report with recommendations that include:

  • Supporting behavioral therapy as the first line of treatment for ADHD in very young children;
  • Reducing the ratio of students to behavioral health personnel, such as school counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists, in Georgia schools; and
  • Supporting efforts to implement Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) programs, which use simple questions and answers to get young people talking about their substance abuse.

The committee is also supportive of school-based health clinics and planned to share their findings with the House Study Committee on Health, Education, and School-Based Health Centers.


The House and Senate passed an adjournment resolution, setting the legislative calendar for the first 13 days. Legislators will be in session Monday through Friday this week and Wednesday through Friday next week.