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Two Separate Coalitions of Grassroots Groups Lobbying Georgia Legislature on Mental Health

By Gareth Fenley, president, NAMI Augusta. Published in the NAMI Augusta Azalea, November 2009.

PLEASE NOTE: This is old information from 2009. This is a historical "snapshot" and not accurate current information.

This year, consumers of mental health services and our families have two separate coalitions of organizations representing us in the Georgia General Assembly.

Are two better than one? Or would it be better to be united? However it may be, as it stands now, the two groups are working independently.

The Behavioral Health Services Coalition is the new name of a long-standing advocacy group previously called the Mental Health Services Coalition. The name change reflects a new inclusion of advocacy for people with addictive diseases.

The Coalition's plans for this legislative session are to focus on three top priorities: Housing, child and adolescent services, and addictive disease services.

The Coalition welcomes new members to join its efforts and its action alert email list. Anyone interested should contact Ellyn Jaeger at

The Gray Matters Behavioral Health Legislative Caucus is a completely new group of Georgia legislators, advocacy groups, and individuals that was initiated by NAMI Georgia this year. The Caucus is working on two areas of focus: community services and the justice system. Because there were no consumer advocates participating in the justice system work group, I joined it.

Anyone interested in the Gray Matters caucus is also welcome and encouraged to join. Contact Eric Spencer at

Both the Coalition and the Caucus have met with the new Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Dr. Frank Shelp.

It remains to be seen whether the work of these two groups will result in twice as much effectiveness with the Legislature, or whether they will end up disagreeing with each other and working at cross purposes.

It's my sincere hope that, one way or another, the people of Georgia will be the winners. Consumers and families desperately need improvements in our mental health system, and we should all keep our eyes on that goal as a prize that everyone can win together.

More information about the Gray Matters caucus is below.

Gray Matters Behavioral Health Caucus of the Georgia General Assembly

A Behavioral Health Legislative Caucus

For Legislators to learn about Mental Health and Addictive Disease issues.

A series of quarterly caucus meetings designed to enhance the dialogue between advocacy partners, stakeholders, and members of the legislative and executive branches of government.

The Caucus attendees will be all Georgia Legislators who wish to attend, the Hosts, Co-hosts and other invited guests.

At the first Caucus, August 10th, 2009, in the Georgia State Capitol, the legislators met the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Dr. Frank Shelp and the Mental Health Co-occurring Disorders Ombudsman Jewel Norman.

A meeting of the Caucus was held:

November 9, 2009

10am-12 Noon

Georgia Capitol

Room 450

Atlanta, Georgia

This second caucus put forward the legislative actions the advocacy and stakeholder groups believe will have the most impact on the current system of care.


Senator Johnny Grant

Representative Mark Butler


Lt. Governor Casey Cagle

Sen. Jack Hill

Sen. Horacena Tate

Sen. Renee Unterman

Rep. Mark Burkhalter

Rep. Buddy Carter

Rep. Sharon Cooper

Rep. Elly Dobbs

Rep. Pat Gardner

Rep. Judy Manning

Rep. Bob Smith

Rep. Ron Stephens

Administrative Office of the Courts of Georgia

The Carter Center

Coalition for the Homeless Mentally Ill

Clarke County Probate Court

Ga. Advocacy Office

Ga. Assoc. for Persons in Supportive Employment

Ga. Assoc. of Community Service Boards

Ga. CIT Advisory Council

Ga. Council on Substance Abuse

Ga. Chiefs of Police Association

Ga. Department of Corrections

Ga. Department of Pardon and Paroles

Ga. Hospital Association

Ga. Parent Support Network

Ga. Psychiatric Physicians Association

Ga. Psychological Association

Ga. Sheriffs Association

Licensed Professional Counselors Association of Ga.

National Alliance on Mental Illness - Ga. Chapter

National Assoc. of Social Workers - Ga. Chapter

If you wish to participate in the Caucus, please contact Eric Spencer at

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