Georgia's Capitol in Atlanta

Georgia’s State Capitol in Atlanta

Georgians are poised to decide whether statewide elected officials who have been suspended amid felony charges for abusing their office should continue to draw a paycheck while awaiting trial.

The state House of Representatives gave final approval Tuesday for a constitutional amendment that would put to voters whether to bar pay for officials facing felony charges like Georgia’s governor, secretary of state and insurance commissioner.

The measure sponsored by Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, comes after it was recently revealed former state Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck has continued receiving his salary for nearly two years since being suspended following his indictment on felony fraud charges.

It passed unanimously in the House on Monday after clearing the state Senate earlier this month by a nearly unanimous vote, with Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, voting against. The question will be on the ballot in 2022 if Gov. Brian Kemp signs the legislation.

The bill would not affect House Whip Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, who is under a misdemeanor indictment. Kelley is charged with reckless conduct concerning the reporting of a September 2019 hit-and-run that killed a cyclist.

House lawmakers also have a separate measure by Walker on their plate that would apply the same ban on pay for county and city elected officials indicted on felony corruption charges.

Beck, who was elected insurance commissioner in late 2018, was on the job for only a few months before being suspended amid a 38-count felony indictment handed down in May 2019 on allegations he stole more than $2 million from the Georgia Underwriting Association, where he previously worked.

He has continued reeling in roughly $350,000 in compensation since then, even as current Insurance Commission John King also draws a salary for the job. The revelation earlier this year of double-pay – which state law allows – sparked outrage from state lawmakers who moved to correct the issue.

“If you can’t do the job, you shouldn’t get paid for it,” said Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven. “We’ve got to make it so that public corruption doesn’t get so comfortable that you stick around and collect a paycheck until the clock runs out.”

Beck has denied the charges and pleaded not guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. His trial on felony charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering is scheduled to begin next month.

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