FILE - Georgia House Speaker David Ralston

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge

(The Center Square) – Georgia's House leader wants to spend $75 million on additional personnel and resources for law enforcement and mental health services in the state.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, announced his proposal Wednesday during the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council Summer Training Conference on Jekyll Island. It is the second spending proposal announced by Ralston this week.

"Today, I announce a significant investment in personnel and resources to keep our streets safe and our state a great place to live, to work and to raise a family," Ralston said. "We owe it to our communities to bolster law enforcement and mental health services in a time when some areas of our state are seeing a dramatic increase in crime and the number of individuals in need of mental health care."

Ralston announced a plan Monday to spend an additional $3 million to increase state law enforcement personnel and combat crime in Atlanta. The legislative panel is focused on examining solutions to reduce rising crime in the city.

Reports show an increase in crime across the state this year. Crime in Atlanta had doubled by spring, according to reports.

The $3 million in agency funding Ralston proposed Monday is included in the new proposal Ralston announced Wednesday. It has to be approved by the General Assembly through the state's budget process.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety (DPS) has a $247 million budget for fiscal year 2022. Lawmakers allocated $186.2 million in state funds to support the agency from June 30 through July 31, 2021. The General Assembly must review the state's current spending plan and decide whether to make changes during the next regular legislative session. Lawmakers also must construct a spending plan for the 2023 fiscal year.

Ralston's new proposal includes spending $25 million for one-time $1,000 bonuses for local law enforcement officers. Local police agencies and sheriff's offices would have to apply for grants under the plan.

"Georgia is a state that stands firmly with those who wear the badge," Ralston said. "This $25 million is about rewarding those police officers and sheriff's deputies who protect and serve our communities each and every day, often putting themselves in harm's way in the line of duty."

The remaining $50 million would be recurring funding for various state law enforcement, judicial and mental health agencies. More than $20 million would be provided to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), and $10 million would go toward salary increases for state prosecutors and public defenders. The remaining $20 million would be divided among a dozen other agencies based on agency requests and program needs, focusing on mental health services.

A coalition of mental health and substance recovery organizations urged lawmakers last week to use the state's American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding and policy to support Georgians with disorders. Supporters said integrating law enforcement and mental health also could reduce recidivism in the state.

In Ralston's proposal, $7 million is earmarked for additional Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities crisis beds. About $2 million would go toward salary increases and additional personnel for Georgia's accountability courts.

"I have said many times that for us to continue to be a great state, we must also focus on being a good state – one that cares for those who need it," Ralston said. "Mental health is something that touches almost every family in this state, so investing in mental health services and our accountability courts is not just good business – it is also a way of helping people recover and reunite with their families."

The GBI must use its funding for additional personnel in death investigations, forensic services and specialized task forces. New funding also would be allocated for the GBI to initiate investigations in cases where election fraud is suspected.

Ralston said that funding would be accompanied by legislation in the 2022 legislative session to allow the GBI to initiate election investigations without the need for a request or direction from any other local or state authority.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for five years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.