Legislative Update

HB 173 AUTHORIZING MFTs TO

SIGN 1013/2013s DIES IN COMMITTEE

Carl Johnson, Chair

Legislative/Governmental Affairs Committee

The 2018 session of the Georgia General Assembly came to a close on March 29. Because this is the second year of the two-year legislative cycle, bills that did not pass both houses automatically “died;” if reintroduced in 2019 they must start again from scratch. Bills of particular interest to MFTs include:

HB 173: Authorizing MFTs to Sign 1013/2013s. When last year’ssession ended I reported a combination of good and bad news. The good news was that the Georgia Sheriffs Association, which had opposed MFTs signing 1013/2013s since the mid-1990s, agreed to drop their opposition to our bill under the condition that we build in a two-year trial period to insure that MFTs having this authority does not cause problems for the sheriffs. This is the same arrangement the sheriffs worked out with the LPCs when they passed 1013/2013 authority in 2014. The bad news was that despite our efforts to have HB 173 assigned to a different committee, it was nevertheless assigned to the House Health and Human Services Committee, the very committee where our 2015-2016 bill died at the end of the 2016 session because the Chair, Sharon Cooper (District 43, Marietta), refused to call it up for a hearing. And, despite our best efforts, Representative Cooper did the same in 2017, again declining to hold a hearing on the bill. Our only glimmer of hope was that she assured me she would hold a “stakeholders meeting” in the fall of 2017 to discuss our bill, along with two other bills that also addressed the issue of emergency mental health transports.

Despite this assurance, last fall Chairman Cooper informed our bill’s sponsor, Representative Joyce Chandler (District 105, Grayson), that she had decided not to hold the promised stakeholders meeting, and that she would not hold a hearing on our bill this year, effectively killing it. Our only hope – a long shot – was to attempt to introduce and pass an identical bill in the Senate, and then try to have it assigned to a different committee once it got to the House. However, although we held talks with five senators, we could find no one who would sponsor such a bill. There were two reasons for their reluctance. First, some argued that it would be a waste of their time, reasoning that any such bill would likely be killed by Chairman Cooper in the House. And second, the sheriffs began to waffle on their agreement not to oppose 1013/2013 authority for MFTs. Apparently some sheriffs have experienced problems with LPCs executing 1013s improperly, and so they are now reluctant to see this authority extended to MFTs.

While mindful of the uphill nature of this effort, the GAMFT Board of Directors continues to believe that 1013/2013 authority for MFTs is worth pursuing. Since the school shooting in Florida, I have been telling legislators that the most common misconception regarding MFTs is that we are only “marriage counselors.”  In fact, we also work with families, and consequently we are the mental health profession most likely to work with adolescents. Recent events have highlighted the necessity of adolescents who are a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness getting the treatment they need as quickly as possible. 1013/2013 authority for MFTs is an important part of making this happen.

One senator, Lester Jackson (District 2, Savannah) may become our champion next year. He has an interest in mental health issues – in 2016 he sponsored the combined psychologists/counselors bill regarding testing and diagnosis, and his brother is a psychiatrist – and he has said he believes MFTs need 1013/2013 authority. To this end, Senator Jackson is scheduled to meet with the Coastal Georgia Chapter on April 20, and with the GAMFT Board of Directors at its May 3 meeting on Jekyll Island.

SB 40 and SB 318: Emergency Mental Health Transport Authority for EMTs.SB 40 would have authorized EMTs – in an emergency and in consultation with a physician – to transport a person they believed to be mentally ill to an emergency receiving facility for evaluation. In 2017 it was another of the mental health transport bills that died in the House Health and Human Services Committee because Chairman Cooper refused to call it up for a hearing. This year the Senate passed a scaled back version, establishing a one-year pilot program, and although this time Chairman Cooper did hold a hearing on the bill, the Committee voted to table it, thereby effectively killing the bill.

 

HB 847: Interstate Compact Regulating Telepsychology. HB 847 would have written the “Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact,” which regulates the interstate practice of telepsychology, into Georgia law. It passed the House but was voted down in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, largely due to the opposition of Senator Greg Kirk (District 13, Americus). Senator Kirk is a past president of the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of Georgia and was heavily involved in the recent four-year legislative battle between psychologists and LPCs over the regulation of psychological testing.