ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's voters will get a chance to decide whether indicted state officials should have their pay suspended while their cases are being decided.
The state House voted 169-0 on Tuesday for Senate Resolution 134, a constitutional amendment on the question. Senators approved the amendment earlier.
The state Constitution already allows for statewide elected officials or members of the General Assembly to be suspended from office after being indicted for a felony if a commission finds they should be.
But the current law does not stop paychecks to an indicted official until they are convicted. That's become an issue because Republican Jim Beck, who was elected insurance commissioner in 2018, was indicted months after taking office on charges that he defrauded a former employer out of $2 million, spending the money on personal expenses and funding his insurance commissioner campaign.
Beck denies the charges. He's scheduled to go to trial in July in Atlanta. John King was named insurance commissioner in Beck's place by Gov. Brian Kemp.
The proposal was filed a few weeks after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that by June 30, the state will have paid about $400,000 in salary and benefits to Beck.
“Taxpayers have been on the hook for his salary, his healthcare and benefits this whole time,” Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Brookhaven Democrat, said during debate Tuesday. “We’ve got to make it so that public corruption doesn’t get so comfortable you can just hang around picking up a paycheck until the clock runs out.”
If an official is cleared of charges, the amendment provides they would collect back pay, as well.
Sen. Larry Walker, the Perry Republican sponsoring the constitutional amendment, is also sponsoring Senate Bill 218, which would allow the state to suspend pay to lower-level elected officials who are indicted on felony charges, including mayors, city council members, county commissioners, school board members and prosecutors. That bill has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House.
The amendment would not affect Beck’s case because voters won’t decide it until next year. Beck could run for reelection if he’s cleared by 2022.
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