This proposed amendment on Georgia’s November 2022 ballot would adjust the state constitution to allow for the suspension of certain public officials’ compensation while the individual is suspended from office for being indicted for a felony. An official who is reinstated to their previous position would receive all pay and benefits that were withheld.
Currently, a public official must be convicted before that suspension of the compensation would take place. This amendment would only apply to the following public positions:
- Any member of the General Assembly;
- Lieutenant Governor;
- Secretary of State;
- Attorney General;
- State School Superintendent;
- Commissioner of Insurance;
- Commissioner of Agriculture; or
- Commissioner of Labor
This amendment has no immediate fiscal impact on state taxpayers.
Proponents argue that public officials should be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and should not be paid if they are not currently doing their jobs. They also argue that taxpayers’ funds being used to pay for these suspended public officials could be used to hire public workers in other needed fields.
There is no formal opposition to this amendment. The proposed amendment was placed on the ballot by the state legislature with a vote of 51-1 in the State Senate and 169-0 in the House.
This amendment was introduced as a response to former Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck receiving $343,000 during the period between his suspension from office and his conviction on numerous fraud charges.
All 50 states will suspend the compensation of public officials if they are convicted of a crime related to their duties. Few, if any, states will withhold that compensation before the official is convicted, but there has been a similar proposal in Michigan to do so. Georgia is also one of 30 states that allow for either the garnishment or forfeiture of public employees’ earned retirement benefits if they are convicted of crimes related to their public duties.
The principle behind this garnishment/forfeiture policy is that taxpayers should not be paying for a corrupt public official’s salary and benefits. This amendment does track with that principle by suspending the official’s compensation until they are cleared of wrongdoing, and in cases where a formal indictment and trial take years to reach a conclusion, could save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
However, this amendment goes against the “presumption of innocence” principle, whose legal basis is typically argued for under the 5th, 6th, and 14th Amendments. Suspending an official’s salary, before they are convicted of a crime, could harm their ability to mount a defense against the charges brought upon them and cause them and their family to suffer while guilt is not yet proven. Removing an official’s livelihood before any crime has been proven to have taken place is a potentially dangerous action in a hyper-politicized environment.