ATLANTA - Of the dozens of bills that found their way onto Gov. Brian Kemp's desk during the 2021 legislative session, he vetoed just one.
"While I understand the frustration that many in our state have felt regarding the backlog of unemployment claims, Senate Bill 156 proposes significant infringements on the separation of powers guaranteed by Georgia's Constitution," Gov. Kemp said in a veto statement issued Monday.
Senate Bill 156 would have created the position of "Chief Labor Officer" to work in the Georgia Department of Labor. Under the legislation the labor officer would have the same powers as the Commissioner of Labor, however, he or she would be appointed by the state legislature, rather than elected.
State Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, drafted the original legislation in response to complaints from Georgians who filed for unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic and could not get clear answers about the status of their benefits.
"We saw, really, a crisis with this issue that there were people who were needing unemployment benefits," explained Sen. Harbin.
According to the GDOL, they have processed 4,745,554 initial unemployment claims since the week of March 21, 2020. That was more than the previous nine years combined.
"So they had a tough, tough job," said Sen. Harbin. "More than anything it was trying to get them to have help."
The Chief Labor Officer position would have only lasted through December 2022 and would have been tasked with reporting unemployment claims and processing data to state lawmakers.
"Rather than creating a new Chief Labor Officer position that reports directly to the legislature, I believe we should work with the Labor Commissioner to identify the challenges his agency is facing and ensure the Georgia Department of Labor is doing everything it can to review unemployment claims for validity and deliver payments for those who qualify," wrote Gov. Kemp.
While the final bill was significantly different from what Sen. Harbin initially filed, he said he hopes it sent a message that change is needed.
"This was a test of the system and I think there are some things that need to be done and hopefully, even though it was vetoed, it would be a message that we need to change that and update that system, especially with the technology that we have today," said Sen. Harbin.
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