ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed legislation Monday that would have created the position of chief labor officer within the Georgia Department of Labor.
In his veto message, Kemp wrote that the powers the bill would have given the new position would have put it in conflict with the constitutional authority of Georgia’s elected commissioner of labor.
Senate Bill 156, a bipartisan measure, arose from a backlog of unemployment claims that built up in the labor department during the coronavirus pandemic. For months, lawmakers were deluged with complaints from constituents reporting delays in receiving benefit checks and the lack of response from the agency when they call to ask about their cases.
The bill cleared the General Assembly on the last day of this year’s session, 142-22 in the Georgia House of Representatives and 29-20 in the state Senate.
Under the legislation, the chief labor officer was to report to the General Assembly and be given the same authority as the commissioner of labor.
Kemp argued the bill did not provide any mechanism for resolving conflicts between the two.
“Instead, this bill would allow the chief labor officer to seek a writ of mandamus against the commissioner when the two experienced an irreconcilable dispute,” the governor wrote. “This would put the state in a position of using taxpayers dollars to sue between two branches of the same government to enforce a remedy against a duly elected state official.”
Kemp wrote that he understood the frustration over the claims backlog. But he suggested that instead of creating a new position, the administration and legislature should work with Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler to ensure the agency reviews unemployment claims and delivers benefits payments in as timely a manner as possible.
Butler opposed the bill as it went through the legislature. He argued it would do more harm than good by putting an untrained person in a position of authority over the agency.