By: Jim Galloway, The Atlanta Journal Constitution
Sometime today, the Senate will take up H.B. 132, a bill that would remove licensing for dentists, hygienists and pharmacists from Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and create two new, independent boards
Should the measure pass, Kemp said Monday, 16 or so state employees will lose their jobs in his licensing operation in Macon, even while state government grows by a million dollars or so.
“We’ve been asking what the cost is going to be, and where is the money going to come from,” the secretary of state said. So far, Kemp hasn’t gotten an answer, even while engaged in a series of hostile exchanges with former Senate colleagues.
On Wednesday, a Senate subcommittee chaired by Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, passed out the bill without allowing Kemp – or anyone else – to express concerns.
In a letter to McKoon, the secretary of state referred to the experience as “a pathetic charade” and a “sham.”
McKoon responded by telling Kemp to mind his own business. “If Secretary Kemp spent more time doing his job and less time writing insulting letters filled with erroneous information, perhaps Georgia's business community would not be fleeing his office's regulatory jurisdiction,” the senator wrote.
On Friday, the full Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee was scheduled to pass out the bill. Kemp’s account:
“Then they changed the time, changed the place, and the meeting was over with before I walked in – less than five minutes after it started. And they didn’t even give us a heads up. All I know is that we used to rail about that when we were in the minority.
“You can say what you want about the House, but they had several committee meetings on the bill, and everybody had the opportunity to speak. There were other people who wanted to speak at the meeting, who had concerns about the bill, besides me.”
Here’s the driving force between the confrontation: License fees from professions supervised by Kemp bring in about $24 million a year. The secretary of state's annual budget is $7 million and sinking.
Dentists and pharmacists think they can get more state funding, and undivided attention, with independent boards. (On the floor today, state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, is likely to attempt an amendment that would a third independent board for nurses.
An independent board for doctors costs the state about $2.3 million a year, Kemp said. Dentists and pharmacists, meanwhile, provide 10 percent of licensing fees in his system. Lose that money, and he would have to cut 20 percent of his licensing staff. “That’s going to affect everybody that’s left behind,” he said.
The cost for the new boards and the cost to Kemp’s budget -- is likely to surface in the final 2014 budget that is now being negotiated between the House and Senate. Said the secretary of state:
“The people that are wanting to move, they want to have their own executive director. They want to have more enforcement. We can do all of that. I’ve just got to have the money to be able to do it. And I don’t think anybody can do it as good as we can.”
Here’s what Kemp said he would have told that subcommittee, where complaints of poor service erupted:
“The reason that is, is because you guys passed an immigration bill that caused us to move 25 percent of our staff to check ‘secured and verifiable’ documents. We got no new money to do it. We had a streamlined, on-line process that we’ve now turned bureaucratic. That’s not my fault. That’s something you did.
“We’re getting blamed for a lot of this when we didn’t cause the problem.”
A couple things worth noting: Kemp’s brother-in-law is state Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who was on the losing side of the Senate power struggle that was resolved late last year – in Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s favor.
But Kemp says that shouldn’t be an issue:
“I haven’t been involved in the Senate fight. I’ve had good relations on both sides of that, the whole time it was going on. I think anybody would tell you that.”
Kemp is also a potential 2018 Republican candidate for governor – as is Cagle. Said Kemp:
“I’m not naïve enough to know there’s a lot of politics involved in a lot of things over here, but don’t think anybody around here at the Capitol will tell you that I haven’t been a team player. If other people aren’t acting that way, there’s not a whole lot I can do about that.”
H.B. 132 is sponsored by state Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, a dentist. (Heads up, watchdogs: A post-session inspection of campaign contributions should show a great many checks from the tooth-pulling industry.)
When the House passed the bill, 122 to 46, Republican congressional prospects Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, and Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, split their votes. Lindsey voted yes. Sheldon voted no.