Georgia House gives final passage to measure eliminating pay for indicted pols

Jim Beck was suspended as Georgia's insurance commissioner in May 2019 on allegations that he swindled a former employer. Beck has denied the charges and awaits trial. By June 30, the state will have paid about $400,000 in salary and benefits to Beck while also employing another insurance commissioner to do the job. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com
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Jim Beck was suspended as Georgia's insurance commissioner in May 2019 on allegations that he swindled a former employer. Beck has denied the charges and awaits trial. By June 30, the state will have paid about $400,000 in salary and benefits to Beck while also employing another insurance commissioner to do the job. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com

Credit: Emily Haney

Credit: Emily Haney

Georgia voters will be asked next year to approve a constitutional amendment to keep taxpayers from having to pay state officials who are suspended from their jobs while facing felony indictments.

The Georgia House voted 169-0 Tuesday for Senate Resolution 134, which puts the issue on the 2022 ballot. The Senate backed the resolution earlier this month.

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 suspended Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck.

Beck was indicted a few months after taking office on charges alleging that he swindled his former employer out of $2 million, in part to fund his campaign for office. He has denied the charges.

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During debate Tuesday, Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven, said Beck “is about to go a whole term without doing a job Georgians put their trust in him to do, but the taxpayers have been on the hook for his salary, health care and benefits the whole time.”

“If you can’t do the job, you shouldn’t get paid for it. I think he should have resigned,” Wilson said. “But since no one can be compelled to that end, we’ve got to make it so public corruption doesn’t get so comfortable you can just hang around picking up a paycheck until the clock runs out.”

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said the state already has the ability to set up a review panel to decide whether an indicted official should be suspended from office.

“It’s totally appropriate and positive movement in my view that we also suspend the pay,” she said. “You do have a constitutional right not to be incarcerated wrongly, but I’m not sure in the private world or in the public world you have a right to a job and pay for a job you are not performing.”

SR 134 would apply to state officials who are indicted on charges related to their performance in office.

Indicted officials who are exonerated would return to their jobs and receive back pay.

Even if voters pass SR 134, it would have no impact on Beck’s case. Beck is expected to go to trial this year on his charges, which involve activity before he took office. Plus, the law would apply to future cases.

Beck was indicted in May 2019, five months after taking office, and suspended by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Since he didn’t resign but was suspended, the state is paying two insurance commissioners: Beck and Kemp’s choice to replace him, John King.

Beck won election in November 2018 and took office the next January. By May, then-U.S. Attorney BJay Pak was announcing the indictment of Beck, a former leader of the Georgia Christian Coalition, alleging that he stole money to pay personal credit card bills and taxes, and pump money into his 2018 campaign for insurance commissioner.

Three former Department of Insurance employees later sued the state and Beck, saying they were ousted as retaliation because he thought they provided information about him to state and federal officials and the media.

The insurance commissioner’s job will be back on the ballot in 2022. If Beck is cleared of the criminal charges, he is entitled to take back the post and stand for reelection. In the meantime, the state will continue paying two commissioners.


The story so far:

November 2018 - Jim Beck, a former official with the Department of Insurance and onetime president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, is elected insurance commissioner

January 2019 - Beck is sworn in

May 2019 - Beck is indicted on charges alleging that he swindled his former employer out of $2 million, in part to fund his campaign for office. He denies the accusations and vows to fight the charges. He is suspended from office

June 2019 - Kemp picks Doraville Police Chief John King to replace Beck while he is suspended

November 2019 - Then-House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Luthersville Democrat, pre-files measure to eliminate pay for indicted and suspended officials. The legislation goes nowhere.

January 2021 - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the tab taxpayers will the pay in salary and benefits for Beck while he’s suspended is nearing $400,000

February 2021 - Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, files a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate pay for indicted, suspended statewide elected officials and lawmakers

March 2021 - Senate and House overwhelmingly approve Walker’s resolution, with the final vote coming Tuesday

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