For The Record

Kemp nixes plan to create legislatively appointed chief labor officer

By: - May 10, 2021 8:45 pm

The proposal to plant a legislatively appointed chief labor officer within the state Department of Labor was the only measure vetoed this year. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Gov. Brian Kemp has struck down the Legislature’s attempt to create a new high-level staffer who would share duties with the state’s elected labor commissioner.

“While I understand the frustration that many in our state have felt regarding the backlog of unemployment claims, (this bill) proposes significant infringement on the separations of powers guaranteed by Georgia’s Constitution,” the governor said in his veto statement.

Monday was the deadline for Kemp to veto bills that passed in this year’s legislative session, which ended in late March. The proposal to plant a legislatively appointed chief labor officer within the state Department of Labor was the only measure vetoed this year. Lawmakers also added nearly $200,000 to the budget to fund the role.

Considering the discomfort several lawmakers voiced about the constitutionality of the measure during debate, Monday’s veto was not a surprise.

“If we do this to a statewide elected position, where do we stop,” Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican, said earlier this year. “I think there is a third rail and I think there is a potential of us getting extremely close to that third rail when we want to bring somebody in who has the same power as a statewide elected official.”

Even so, the bill’s sponsor, Tyrone Republican Sen. Marty Harbin, found bipartisan support from lawmakers fielding complaints from constituents suddenly out of work during the pandemic who said they struggled to access unemployment benefits.

The agency was overwhelmed early in the pandemic when a historic number of people filed for unemployment. Lawmakers, though, were baffled when the commissioner, Mark Butler, did not request additional resources during this year’s budget process.

Kemp wrote in his veto message released late Monday that state officials should work with Butler to pinpoint the challenges his office is experiencing and make sure the agency is doing all it can to ensure only eligible people receive unemployment aid.

And he issued a challenge to Butler.

“In addition, many Georgia employers are struggling to find workers for important manufacturing and service industries,” Kemp wrote. “For our state’s economic momentum to continue, the commissioner of labor must do more to match employers with job seekers and make policy decisions that encourage more Georgians to return to the workforce.”

Butler, who is a Republican, is up for reelection next year and has already attracted a primary challenge from Sen. Bruce Thompson. At least two Democrats, Rep. William Boddie and Sen. Lester Jackson, have also announced their plans to run for the seat.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.

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