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Georgia mental health bill faces sudden, vocal opposition

March 26, 2022 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — A bill to improve access to mental health treatment in Georgia that appeared to be sailing through the state Legislature is now facing vocal opposition, with some critics claiming it would protect pedophiles and threaten Second Amendment rights.

State lawmakers supporting the bill have blasted some of the criticism as outlandish.

HB 1013 seeks to ensure that insurers provide the same level of benefits for mental health disorders as they do for physical illness. It would also make it easier to take someone into care without their consent and provide forgivable loans for people who become mental health workers.

It passed the state House earlier this month with nearly unanimous support. But opponents have since flooded state Senate meetings, some of them rallied by the anti-abortion group Georgia Right to Life and a second group, Truth in Education, which has raised concerns about critical race theory and obscene material in schools, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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Jeanne Seaver, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said in a news release Thursday that the bill would classify pedophilia as a mental illness, not a crime. Other opponents have said it would lead to “red flag laws” that give judges the power to declare people a threat and take away their guns.

State lawmakers say none of that is true.

The “mass attack” is coming from a “very small internet activation,” Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Democrat in the state House, told the AJC. Oliver is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Republican House Speaker David Ralston, who is also sponsoring the bill, said some of the objections are “well-intentioned.”

“Then there are the others for whom their concerns are fact-free, they are outrageous, they are ridiculous,” he told the newspaper.

To become law, the bill still must be approved by the state Senate and be signed by the governor. Ralston said he was still optimistic it would pass.

“I don’t see a lot of impact that this opposition is having,” he said.