The Georgia Senate revived and passed a bill Monday 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 distributing unemployment benefits.

Harbin had moved to shelve his bill last Friday after pushback from opponents worried an appointed labor chief might usurp power from the state’s labor commissioner, which is an elected position.

But he brought the measure back Monday and called for a vote on the bill, which passed 32-18 with several Republican senators voting against. The legislation now heads to the state House of Representatives.

Under the bill, the chief labor officer would be appointed by the governor, pending approval from a Senate committee. The law creating the new position would be repealed in January 2023.

The legislation also would require the labor chief to produce reports on the progress of fulfilling unemployment claims, as well provide Georgians with access to unemployment information.

Last week, Harbin said his bill would 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 on Friday.

Opponents warned installing a governor-appointed labor chief could allow partisan leaders to strip powers away from the elected commissioner of labor as well as open the door for workarounds to create other administrators to handle various 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,” Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, said last Friday. “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.

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