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The Georgia Senate shelved a bill Friday aimed at helping the state Department of Labor dole out long-delayed unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, would create the position of chief labor officer in the state agency responsible for speeding up distribution of unemployment benefits.
Harbin scrapped his bill without a vote Friday after pushback from opponents worried an appointed labor chief might usurp power from the state’s labor commissioner, which is an elected position.
Harbin pledged to work on helping ease Georgia’s steep backlog of processing unemployment claims by “seeing if we could get that done without going through the process” of installing a new labor official.
Under the bill, the chief labor officer would have been appointed by the governor, pending approval from a Senate committee. The law creating the new position would be repealed in January 2023.
The labor chief also would have had to produce reports on the progress of fulfilling unemployment claims, as well provide Georgians with access to unemployment information.
Harbin said his bill aimed to give state labor employees a boost after months of trying to work through piles of unemployment claims during the pandemic.
“When you’ve got people who are calling you for months, that’s not good government,” Harbin said after withdrawing his bill.
Opponents warned installing a governor-appointed labor chief could allow partisan leaders to strip powers away from an elected official as well as open the door for workarounds to create administrators to handle other elected jobs in the executive and legislative branches.
“We have ways of changing how the Department of Labor is run, and we do that every four years in November with an election,” said Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula. “I feel that this is a dangerous precedent.”
The labor department has paid out more than $19 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits to nearly 4.5 million Georgians since last March, more than during the last nine years combined prior to the pandemic.