Conflicts of Interest, HB 520, Unnamed Mental Health Monitoring Act
How HB 520 is Designed to Enrich its Sponsor
Each year during the Georgia General Assembly, a battle rages pitting the members of the legislature serving the people’s interests, versus those serving private or corporate interests. That fact should come as no surprise.
What might surprise you is when one’s own representative at the Georgia legislature, relentlessly and repeatedly pushes his own business interests, creating legal authorities and funding for services his own private enterprise would provide, to be paid with taxpayer dollars, openly placing those provisions into legislation he sponsors under the Georgia dome.
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Last General Assembly, the centerpiece legislation passing into Georgia law, co-sponsored by the Speaker himself, was HB1013, a bill becoming better known as the ‘Georgia Mental Health Bill.’ You might remember reading my appraisal of its provisions. To familiarize yourself, you can read that appraisal in a piece I entitled, Conflicts of Interest in HB 1013, the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act. Fortunately, prior to the bill’s passage in the Georgia Senate, the conflict-of-interest provisions hidden in that bill were removed.
But that was then. This year, a follow-up bill to HB1013, HB520, yet to be titled, is presently hiding its true purposes under the guise of a bill concerned with, “Buildings, housing and tenant selection.” HB520, and all the personal financial benefits it contains, has been dropped into the hopper by the same primary sponsor as last year’s Mental Health bill, Forsyth County State Rep, Todd Jones.
Although HB520 starts off with provisions considering housing authorities and dwelling accommodations for persons of low income, in Section 2 the bill takes a left turn, charting a path dealing with individuals who the state determines to be mentally incompetent to stand trial, or unworthy to remain free except under monitored surveillance. It is an abrupt transition, apparently forced in an attempt for these provisions to gain access to a floor vote without garnering much attention.
But as was the case with HB1013 last year, the primary focus of HB520 appears to be to carve out a stream of taxpayer funded revenues for Jones’ company, Talitrix, which sells a high-tech monitoring device in the form of a fashionable wristwatch, which connects to the internet via a Bluetooth signal to the wearer’s smartphone. For a more complete description of the apparatus, please go to the link provided above which will take you to last years’ article.
So, here we go again, another instance of an elected official apparently attempting to profit financially from his position of trust, placing language into sponsored legislation designed to create an income stream for himself and his partners.
If you can’t imagine what I’m telling you to be true, which is frankly hard for me to believe either, let me step you through the provisions of the bill so that you can see that it is written to both authorize Georgia Government to directly utilize Jones’ monitoring systems, but also to fund these programs using state grants.
Line 14 speaks of establishing a grant program for funding, “jail in-reach and reentry programs,” which we discover are programs requiring the monitoring of individuals previously in jail, but who would be released to reenter the community for times and conditions the law sets based upon the circumstances. Under these provisions, Representative Jones’ company, Talitrix, would ostensibly manufacture and sell technologically-advanced monitoring systems to the State of Georgia, or to lesser jurisdictions within the state, who would purchase or rent these systems and monitoring services using state tax dollars. Whether the technology could be put to good use is not the question. The question is whether it would be a conflict of interest for Representative Jones, and/or other owner-legislators, to sponsor or vote for legislation which if passed could likely serve their personal enrichment.
Lines 184-187 establish a certain class of offender for which the Talitrix product could be used facilitating outpatient offender monitoring.
Lines 214-218 establish another class of outpatient for which the Talitrix product could be used facilitating outpatient monitoring. Monitoring would one option for an accused outpatient to “remain in the community” as a “condition ordered by the court.”
Lines 413-417 establish a grant program to provide “community resources to assist…jail in-reach and reentry programs.” Those are programs which allow jailed individuals to reenter the community under certain conditions. One condition, of course, would be to agree to certain “technical assistance” to monitor both their whereabouts, and as well to provide various status updates once on the outside. That technical assistance could be provided by Jones’ company.
Lines 762-767 provides for a program of monitoring “impaired health care professionals” while undergoing rehabilitation.
Lines 777-793 provide that the records of some “entity” monitoring “impaired health professionals” would be confidential and not subject to the open records provisions of law. Those records would not be available for court subpoenas or discovery proceedings. Furthermore, it provides that any monitoring entity contracting with the board, such as Representative Jones’ company, “shall be immune from any liability, civil or criminal.” Thereby, Jones’ company could not be sued for anything they do.
Lines 812-817 authorize a the Georgia Board of Nursing to provide monitoring of “impaired health care professionals,” meaning nurses who the board determines may be impaired and require monitoring.
Lines 826-842 provide that the records of an “entity” monitoring, “impaired health care professionals,” as authorized by the Georgia Board of Nursing would be confidential and not subject to the open records provisions of law. Those records would not be available for court subpoenas or discovery proceedings. Furthermore, it provides that any monitoring entity contracting with the board, such as Representative Jones’ company, “shall be immune from any liability, civil or criminal.” Thereby, just as before, Jones’ company could not be sued for anything they do.
The remainder of HB520 provides that the former free state of Georgia would become a veritable Orwellian dystopia under the authorities Jones’ bill conveys. According to the Georgia Freedom Caucus:
This bill makes it easier for someone to be declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. It further gives the state the right to place a child in a secure facility until mental competency is determined, which is immensely concerning as the bill does not have stipulations for that child’s right to due process. The detainment for mental competency testing can be up to 90 days for both adults and children. This detainment could last up to 9 months though, per this bill. All of this is without ever being found guilty of a crime. For people accused of a nonviolent offense, they can be held for inpatient treatment up to 5 years and for people accused of violent offenses they can be held for the period equal to the maximum sentence for that crime.
This bill is furthermore a massive expansion of Medicaid by essentially expanding it to all things related to mental health. Conservatives ran against expanding Medicaid and putting the cost of someone’s healthcare onto the backs of their fellow citizens. This is hypocritical and bad policy.
The bill further grants the state licensing board the ability to pay back all the student loans of mental health professional. Whenever Bernie Sanders proposes these things, we call him a ‘socialist’ and even a ‘communist’; we should do the same with the authors of this bill. This puts the cost of one person’s education on the backs of their fellow citizens and that is patently wrong.
The bill further establishes that various departments of the government will work together to establish a uniform definition for ‘Serious Mental Issues’ and orders the department to establish various new community service boards along with establishing a clearing house for best practices. It further says that the department shall establish a pilot program in jails for validated mental health screenings and create a grant program to expand capacity for jail in-reach programs. The bill further says the department shall conduct many different studies which will eat up taxpayer dollars. The bill also adds two Peer Support Specialists to the committee. The bill further requires the commission to create several different taskforces to review relevant subject matter. It also makes it easier for the department to give out awards of funding for outpatient treatment. This bill also creates a program for monitoring and rehabilitating impaired healthcare professionals.
The bill further establishes a director of the Georgia Data Analytics Center (GDAC) and makes GDAC the entity which all information flows through in our state government. This director is an agent of all state agencies. Giving this much power to one person is highly concerning. This bill further creates a massive database for the government on all healthcare officials.
The bill bars housing authorities from considering someone’s criminal history regarding rental or tenant selection if it doesn’t pertain to fitness as a tenant. It further ties this provision to the HUD for ‘leverage,’ ‘guidance,’ and ‘funding.’
This bill is one of the most egregious attempts to strip Georgians of their civil liberties we have ever seen, competing strongly with last year’s HB 1013 on that. Because this bill grossly grows the size of government in Georgia, gives the state more power over the people, and grossly violates due process in a horrific and immoral way, the SFCN recommends NO on this bill. Vote NO. Vote NO. Vote NO.
For all of these reasons, I encourage Georgians to contact their House representatives and senators, urging them to vote a resounding NO should HB520 come up for a vote. And I urge Georgians who live in Georgia’s 25th District to contact Representative Todd Jones and urge him to resign from the Georgia Legislature. Law-making is no place for individuals to place their business interests above the vital interests and constitutional rights of citizens.
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