Credit: Donna Lowry / GPB News
Mental health reporting requirements among new Georgia laws
Parts of a law overhauling insurance coverage for mental health, new ways for parents to challenge materials used in schools and a tax credit for donating to police are among new laws taking effect Sunday in Georgia.
Most Georgia laws take effect on July 1, but the General Assembly delayed some laws, or parts of laws, until Jan. 1. That is particularly true of some tax provisions for taxes collected on a yearly basis.
Among the measures that took effect earlier in 2022 were a repeal of the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public, a ban on teaching certain racial concepts that Republicans say are divisive, and a $1.1 billion state income tax refund that sent between $250 and $500 to many households.
Here's a look at some of the new laws and provisions that begin Jan. 1:
Health insurance companies have to begin reporting to the state Insurance Department how they provide mental health coverage for children, adolescents and adults under House Bill 1013, a state effort to make sure insurers follow federal law requiring that they cover mental health care in the same way they pay for physical health care. Insurance Commissioner John King is supposed to seek data to examine compliance by May 15 and submit a report on its results by Aug. 15. The department is also required beginning Jan. 1 to create a system for tracking complaints about unfair coverage denials. Grants to help with court-ordered mental health treatment in the community also begin Jan. 1. Other requirements kick in later in 2023 and in 2024.
SCHOOL MATERIAL CHALLENGES
School districts have to start taking complaints from about books, websites and other materials that parents believe are obscene or harmful to minors under Senate Bill 226. The bill was part of a raft of culturally conservative school legislation approved in the 2022 session. The new law requires principals or their designees to investigate within seven business days, decide whether to ban the materials or restrict access, and confer with the complaining parent within 10 business days. Unhappy parents can appeal to the local school board, which is supposed to decide within 30 days of getting an appeal, while providing a parent a legal right to address the board during a public meeting. The district has to publish the titles of any material involved in an appeal on its website for a year, and any parents must be provided access to such materials.
POLICE TAX CREDITS
People can get tax credits on their state income tax by donating to law enforcement foundations that support local police agencies. Senate Bill 361 provides for $75 million in tax credits per year, with up to $3 million per police department or sheriff's department. The money can be used to increase officer salaries, provide more training, buy or maintain equipment, or pay for programs that send out social and health workers to help with mental health emergencies.
HOSPITAL TAX CREDITS
Tax credits for donating to rural hospitals rise from the current $60 million to $75 million under House Bill 1041. Both individuals and corporations can give money, up to certain limits, to 56 hospitals as designated by the Department of Community Health. Each hospital can collect up to $4 million a year. The hospitals collected a total of $59.4 million, close to the previous limit, in 2021. The state auditor found that the average hospital collected less than $1 million in 2021, although 17 collected more than $1 million.
FOOD TRUCK PERMITTING
Food trucks can operate statewide now with a health permit from their home county's health department, instead of having to seek permits in multiple counties, under House Bill 1443. The law is meant to reduce paperwork and costs for food trucks. Operators still have to submit their health permit to other counties where they plan to operate and wait for that county to verify the permit is valid. Other counties can inspect mobile food trucks and cite them or shut them down if they fail inspection. Fees for inspections are supposed to be limited to a county's actual costs.
More online sellers will be required to publish contact information under Senate Bill 332. Supporters say the law will make it harder to sell stolen or counterfeit goods online. It requires online marketplaces such as eBay, Etsy and Amazon to provide to consumers the full name of third-party companies or individuals with more than $20,000 in annual sales on the platform. The platform must also provide a seller's address, telephone number and email address or other electronic messaging link, with some exceptions. Platforms are supposed to suspend companies that don't comply and provide a phone number and email address for customers to report suspicious activity to the platform.