On Wednesday, March 22nd, the Senate Health and Human Services committee held a hearing to review a substitute for House Bill 520. At this hour feedback varys regarding the Bill’s actual status.
Despite the fact that as of 10:00 o'clock on Saturday morning, three days later, the substitute bill has yet to be posted on the General Assembly site, The Georgia Record has acquired what we believe to be an accurate copy of the substitute Bill as discussed by Chairman Watson during Wednesday's hearing: (document number: LC 339522 S ; 31 pages in length)
The Chairman began by acknowledging the work that had gone into the changes and noted that the Bill had been reduced from 44 pages in length to 31. He also stated that much of the Bill was to have various agencies work together on the substance of the Bill, something they should already be doing.
He then went on to discuss some of the specific changes made in the substitute bill.
We will focus on a few of these changes:
Change - Names of persons submitting affidavits accusing others of requiring mental health evaluation will not be redacted.
Based on public concerns, perhaps the Assembly should consider whether two affidavits are no longer appropriate nor sufficient to cause someone to be evaluated against their will. Medical professionals have reported cases where this existing law has been misused to place ex-spouses and others in custody not for valid mental issues, but for vengeance or retribution.
Change - Student loan repayments will be limited to $10,000 per recipient , or the total student loan debt of the recipient, which ever is less, paid in installments each 12 months, over a term of not more than 5 years. Essentially limiting total reimbursement to a max of $10,000 for each of five years, or $50,000, assuming the recipient stays in the agreed role and meets other requirements of the program.
While limiting the payouts that might have been unlimited under previous versions of the Bill, this still creates a situation where those in other non-qualifying disciplines may question why such payments are made when their specialty is excluded.
Chairman Watson spoke several times to clarify that “monitoring,” in the context of the Bill, did not mean any type of device, and saying that since the 1970s they've used the “pee-in-a-cup” technology.
The word monitoring is used at least ten times in the 31 page document.
The Chairman’s comments about current practice notwithstanding, it must be noted that Bill HB 520 ties to the Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission, whose name alone suggests that innovation is part of the Commission's charter.
It is easily conceivable that the Commission may find that certain technologies are preferable in providing monitoring services underneath this bill. Other citizen research has raised conflict-of-interest questions around certain “monitoring companies” who may have ties to current and former Georgia officials.
The Bill defines an Entity as “…an organization or medical professional association which conducts professional health programs…”
The Bill further provides these “Entities” civil and criminal immunity from any liability that might otherwise be incurred or imposed.
Why do these organizations require/need/deserve such immunities? What then provides accountability for these organizations?
The Bill maintains that certain data will be collected during a variety of processes. The Chairman stated personal identifying information would not be included. The Bill however also states that certain information would not be subject to public disclosure while other language states certain data would not be subject to subpoenas or discovery proceedings?
Georgians have become wary of secrecy in data collection and the inability for the public to view or even know with certainty what data is in the hands of the government. These provisions of the Bill only exacerbates the issue.
Clearly, revision of HB 520 has been a struggle, since it has taken so long to go through several iterations, some never even reaching the public eye.
While certain provisions have been changed or eliminated, tthose following the Bill progress state there remains a number of reasons to be concerned.
Full text of Bill as reviewed by The Georgia Record: