ATLANTA – The General Assembly wants to hire a chief labor officer despite objections from Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler that the position represents an unnecessary encroachment on his jurisdiction.
The state Senate voted 29-20 Wednesday night to create the position of chief labor officer after months of complaints from jobless Georgians waiting for unemployment compensation checks. That’s the bare minimum of votes needed to pass a bill in the 56-member body.
The Georgia House of Representatives had passed the measure 142-22 earlier in the evening.
Under the bill, the chief labor officer’s job would be to keep lawmakers up to date on financial audits of the labor department.
Lawmakers have been bombarded throughout the coronavirus pandemic with complaints from constituents reporting delays in receiving benefit checks and the lack of response from the agency when they call to ask about their cases.
Legislators trying to run interference with the department for their constituents haven’t gotten satisfaction, House Majority Whip Trey Kelley said on the House floor Wednesday night.
“We’re just having trouble getting information on how claims are being processed,” said Kelley, R-Cedartown.
Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler spoke out against the bill as it went through the committee review process. He argued that hiring an untrained person lacking knowledge in how the department operates would do nothing to speed up the processing of an unprecedented deluge of claims resulting from the pandemic.
The bill also creates uncertainty over who would be in charge of the agency, a statewide elected official put there by Georgia voters or an appointee, Butler said.
A late change added to the bill would require the labor commissioner to submit periodic reports to the General Assembly on the disposition of unemployment claims.
“We’re going to hold them accountable to make sure they’re progressing, so we can give [legislators] information they can give to their constituents,” said Rep. Tom Kirby, R-Loganville, a member of the House Industry and Labor Committee.
The fiscal 2022 state budget the General Assembly passed Wednesday night includes $198,916 to fund the new position.
The job is meant to be temporary, expiring at the end of next year unless it’s renewed by the legislature.
The bill now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.