Kemp waited along with a room full of lobbyists, legislators and observers for 25 minutes for three senators to arrive and provide a quorum. When they did, they were ready to vote to pass House Bill 132 within about a minute without taking any testimony.
Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, protested the lack of discussion or opportunity for her to offer a substitute version. She objected to moving just three of the more than 40 professions overseen by Kemp’s staff, which has been backlogged ever since it had to begin verifying the citizenship of every license holder despite budget cuts.
“Because the system is broken, you are trying to build a new system piecemeal,” she said.
Moving the dentists, hygienists and druggists to the Department of Community Health which doesn’t have a budget for the new responsibility will not solve the problem, said Unterman, a nurse who chairs the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.
“They’re not going to be able to do it either,” she warned.
Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, said the years of budget cuts are having consequences.
“What you have is frustration,” he said. “They want to move out of frustration.”
After the quick meeting, Kemp said he was frustrated, too. He had asked Gov. Nathan Deal and the House and Senate appropriations committees for more funding to cope with the added chores, but instead, Deal proposed moving the state archives out of his department. Kemp is also backing legislation that would relax the citizenship-verification requirement for license renewals, and that bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee after the House passed it.
“We can’t keep getting more budget cuts and more work to do,” he said.
Last year, Kemp proposed an overhaul designed to streamline licensing and stretch his shrinking staff. Many professional associations, including those for dentists and druggists, fought the bill until Kemp withdrew it. Their displeasure likely contributes to their desire to get out from under his oversight.
He predicted moving three professions would lead to the dismantling of his office’s licensing role. Other professions will want to move next, especially when the loss of as many as 20 people from Kemp’s staff leads to greater backlogs for the professions that remain.
His office gets about $14 for each of the 450,000 licenses it issues. If 51,000 transfer, that could result in a budget cut equal to 20 employees, he said.