Gov. Nathan Deal pushed for more access to mental health care services, called for changes to education and warned against big healthcare policy changes during his annual State of the State address Wednesday.
Deal proposed a 19 percent pay raise, on average, for caseworkers with the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), which handles foster care cases in the state.
He also announced that his proposed budget would include money to expand healthcare coverage for children with behavioral issues, as well as for people diagnosed with autism.
Deal also called on lawmakers to help tackle the state’s opioid addiction epidemic.
“It is an epidemic that hides in plain sight and ensnares its victims without regard to age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, neighborhood or station in life,” Deal said.
Last year, Deal ordered for Naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug, to be made available over the counter without a prescription. On Wednesday, he called for his order to be put into law.
While Deal highlighted several state health proposals, he also warned lawmakers to wait and see what occurs at the federal level.
“I want to take a moment to caution against taking giant leaps on healthcare policy until we know what Congress and the incoming administration will do,” Deal said.
Deal said he would also continue to fight to improve failing schools in the state. Voters in November rejected his plan that would have allowed the state to take over failing schools.
“It should be abundantly clear to everyone, including those in the education community who so staunchly support the status quo, that this is unacceptable,” he said.
He said he's working with state lawmakers to craft legislation and that the proposals would focus on elementary schools, but was mum on other details about the plan.
State Democrats in response said they would fight a plan that would allow the state to take over underperforming schools.
“Parents and their school boards should run local schools. If Governor Deal again attempts to attack local schools, Democrats will fight him every step of the way,” said state Sen. Vincent Fort in the Democratic response to the State of the State address.
On healthcare, Fort said Democrats will continue to push for expansion of Medicaid in the state, despite the governor’s stance.
“It's really a no-brainer; Georgians pay our federal taxes and deserve our share of the benefits of federal programs,” he said.