ATLANTA - The Georgia Senate Government Oversight committee approved two bills Tuesday that would stop suspended elected officials from receiving paychecks.
The measure comes nearly two years after Georgia Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner Jim Beck suspended himself from his position following a federal indictment on charges of money laundering, mail and wire fraud in 2019.
Federal prosecutors alleged Beck stole nearly $2 million over a period of five years from the Georgia Underwriting Association.
"He's still receiving paychecks from our office. I spoke to our CFO this morning--we've paid him $343,770.35 since May 16, 2019," Weston Burleson with the Georgia Office of Insurance and Fire Safety told committee members. "To put that into perspective, we could've used those funds to hire building inspectors who make $41,000 starting, insurance fraud investigators at $46,000 and/or arson investigators at $52,000. So we strongly support this legislation in its current form."
The state not only continues to pay Beck, but also interim Insurance Commissioner John King, who was sworn in on July 1, 2019.
"I feel like it's our duty to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money and if somebody's been removed from office, no longer doing the duties of that office and we've had to basically hire somebody else to do those duties, I don't think we should be paying two people to do one job," said state Sen. Larry Walker, III, R-Perry, the primary sponsor of the two measures.
Senate Bill 218 deals with local elected officials like county commissioners and school board members who are indicted on felony charges related to their positions.
Senate Resolution 134, however, handles state-level elected officials like the governor, lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, and agriculture commissioner. Because those are constitutional officers, the policy change would require a Constitutional Amendment, which needs voter approval.
The bill needs to make it to the Senate floor for a vote before Crossover Day on Monday. That is the deadline by which a bill must pass one chamber or the other to remain alive for the session.
"We've got bipartisan support and I think it's just common sense that you wouldn't pay somebody that's no longer doing the job," said Sen. Walker.
Beck's attorney, Doug Chalmers, said he had no comment on the legislation.
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