Georgia labor chief Mark Butler won’t run for reelection

Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler

ATLANTA – Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler announced Monday he will not seek reelection to a fourth term.

Butler, whose agency has faced huge obstacles processing the deluge of unemployment claims filed during the pandemic, informed employees in a memo that he is stepping down to focus on his wife’s battle with cancer.

“I’m extremely proud of how the men and women of the Department of Labor stepped up and put in long hours taking on unbelievable odds during this pandemic,” he wrote.

“Many of these individuals had to deal not only with pressures at work but also challenges at home like child care, sickness and even death, just like a lot of Georgia’s families.”

Butler, a Republican, was elected to the Georgia House in 2004 and served three terms before being elected labor commissioner in 2010.

Legislative Democrats criticized the labor department during the pandemic after hearing from constituents complaining the agency was slow in processing jobless claims. Butler countered that the department wasn’t provided adequate funds to handle the unprecedented volume of claims from Georgians thrown out of work.

Republicans, too, took a shot at the commissioner, with some backing bipartisan legislation last year to create the position of chief labor officer within the department to report directly to the governor.

But Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed the bill last May, arguing the powers it would have given a chief labor officer would have conflicted with the commissioner of labor’s constitutional authority.

State Sen. Bruce Thompson, R-White, launched a primary challenge to Butler. The commissioner’s decision not to run leaves Thompson alone on the GOP ballot for the May 24 primary, barring someone else stepping forward before the qualifying period ends next week.

Democrats seeking the statewide post include Georgia Sen. Lester Jackson of Savannah, state Rep. William Boddie of East Point and former television reporter and business owner Nicole Horn.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

State Senate GOP leadership committees will work to retain majority

ATLANTA – Georgia Senate Republicans have created two leadership committees to raise money for this year’s election campaigns.

The committees – Citizens for a Greater Georgia and the Georgia Republican Senatorial Committee – stem from legislation the General Assembly passed last year. They can raise and spend unlimited contributions on behalf of legislative candidates and accept donations throughout the year, including during the legislative session.

Citizens for a Greater Georgia is a partnership between the Senate Republican Caucus and former GOP U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, building on an existing voter mobilization group she formed last year.

“Every day, the radical agenda of the far-Left creeps further into our state – threatening our schools, our communities, our businesses, and our families,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, chairman of the caucus and chairman of the new leadership committee.

“With the unprecedented resources, infrastructure, and financial support of Citizens for a Greater Georgia, we’ll be able to put a stop to the liberal takeover – and secure Georgia as a stronghold for conservative values.”

“Real change happens at the local level, and the Left knows that, which is why they have been investing heavily in local elections, including state Senate races across the country,” added Sen. Dean Burke, R-Bainbridge, the caucus secretary and chairman of the Georgia Republican Senatorial Committee.

“With the creation of these new committees and our proven legislative track record, our caucus is leading the charge to defend Georgia’s conservative Senate majority.”

During last year’s debate, opponents criticized the bill as unfair because it subjects candidates mounting a primary challenge against incumbents to the same limits on campaign fund-raising that have always applied to all candidates in Georgia.

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is challenging Gov. Brian Kemp for the Republican gubernatorial nomination this year, filed a lawsuit in January challenging last year’s law establishing leadership committees.

A federal judge ruled subsequently that Kemp can’t use any of the funds raised by his leadership committee during the primary campaign.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Senate passes permit-less gun carry bill

ATLANTA – Georgians would be able to carry firearms without a permit under controversial legislation the Republican-controlled state Senate passed Monday.

Supporters said Senate Bill 319, which passed 34-22 along party lines, wouldn’t change state laws governing who can possess guns or where they can carry them.

“This law is simply to remove an unnecessary burden from law-abiding citizens,” said Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, the bill’s chief sponsor. “Criminals do not care about a carry permit.”

Senate Democrats cited statistics documenting a sharp rise in violent crime in Georgia during the last decade, which they blamed on the easy accessibility of guns.

“Access to firearms increases the likelihood of suicide,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain. “The presence of a firearm in a domestic violence incident raises the likelihood of homicide, no matter who owns the gun.”

Senators defeated an amendment introduced by Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek, to require background checks of Georgians seeking to buy firearms in private transactions, including at gun shows or flea markets. Current state law only covers guns bought from firearms retailers.

“The amendment would close a loophole,” she said.

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, accused Republicans of pushing “cultural wedge issues” like enhancing gun rights during this election-year session to gain votes.

“This is a dangerous agenda of right-wing gun groups,” she said. “We have a majority that is in thrall to gun extremists.”

Both sides brought other issues into Monday’s debate. Democrats criticized Republicans for seeking to drop restrictions on guns to protect the Second Amendment while pushing to make voting – another constitutional right – more difficult.

Republicans brought up the courageous defense of their country Ukrainians are putting up against invading Russians.

“What would a Ukrainian citizen say about their right to bear arms?” asked Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan.

The bill now moves to the Georgia House of Representatives.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Senate appropriators OK raises for state workers, teachers

ATLANTA – The Georgia Senate’s budget-writing committee approved a $29.9 billion mid-year state budget Monday with raises for teachers and state employees and a $1.6 billion refund for Georgia taxpayers.

The mid-year budget covering state spending through the end of June represents a $2.7 billion increase over the fiscal 2022 budget lawmakers adopted last spring.

Gov. Brian Kemp and legislative leaders can afford to be generous this year as state tax revenues continue to bounce back from huge declines suffered during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago.

“Georgia’s economy is resilient,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia. “Georgia’s economy has continued to grow.”

The Senate panel put its stamp of approval on a $5,000 pay increase for state employees and a $2,000 raise for Georgia teachers Gov. Brian Kemp recommended in January. The increase for teachers completes the $5,000 raise Kemp promised on the campaign trail four years ago.

The election-year tax refund would be worth $250 for single state income tax filers and $500 for joint filers.

The mid-year spending plan also includes $388.2 million to fully fund the state’s K-12 student funding formula, $93 million to accommodate an increase in student enrollment last fall, $188 million to replace aging school buses and $432 million to begin a “state prison transformation” that includes buying a private prison and building a second one.

The Senate version of the mid-year budget would increase the $5,000 raises Kemp is proposing to $9,000 for employees of the departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice, which have been hit particularly hard by turnover.

Other Senate changes include $189.2 million to provide a 20% state match to the federal funds Georgia is due to receive from the infrastructure spending bill Congress passed last November, $20 million for economic development grants to downtown areas of rural communities and $5 million in equipment and operating grants to college nursing programs.

“It’s no secret that our state needs nurses,” Tillery said.

The full Senate is expected to adopt the mid-year budget later this week.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation

Raffensperger calling on Georgia businesses to boycott Russia

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger

ATLANTA – Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is asking Georgia companies and investors to stop doing business with Russia in solidarity with Ukraine.

“I am calling on all Georgians to do their part to support the people of Ukraine in their fight to defend against Russia’s aggression in Europe,” Raffensperger said.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has made clear his designs to roll back the progress of democracy and freedom in the world, and the people of Ukraine are bearing the brunt of his violent revisionism. I am calling on the people of Georgia to cease any business with Russia or investment in Russian assets, or companies that support Russia, to demonstrate our resolve on the side of liberty and freedom from tyranny.”

The secretary’s call follows the Russian invasion of Ukraine last week.

Raffensperger is Georgia’s commissioner of securities. In that capacity, he enforces the state’s securities laws, registering securities offered or sold in Georgia and overseeing firms and individuals selling securities or providing investment advice in Georgia.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.