Jones, Burns appoint committee to probe Georgia licensing issues

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(The Center Square) — A new “blue ribbon” committee will probe reported issues with the Secretary of State’s Professional Licensing Boards Division, with backers saying the office is failing Georgians and the agency’s head saying it needs more of the money it takes in for the state.

House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, and Republican Lt. Governor Burt Jones announced the committee and sent a letter to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

“Through countless constituent cries for help we have identified difficulties obtaining and renewing licenses, certifications and other services statutorily mandated and regulated by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Professional Licensing Boards Division,” they wrote. “…The Division is dismissive at best, literally failing to respond, leaving untold phone calls, emails and messages unanswered. When they do respond it is merely to say they are working on it.”

“The Division’s abstention of accountability effectively places unnecessary hurdles that are prohibiting new businesses from opening and shuttering existing businesses,” they added. “Therefore, we are determined to step in and resolve these frustrating inefficiencies they are causing our invaluable workforce that is already stretched too thin.”

Raffensperger has often found himself in the crosshairs of his Republican colleagues, mainly on issues surrounding elections. However, the latest matter is hardly a surprise, given that Republicans made streamlining government and eliminating licensing hurdles a centerpiece of their efforts during this year’s session.

Raffensperger’s office responded with their own letter, thanking the lawmakers for the additional $1.5 million in the fiscal 2025 budget and the extra $145,600 allocated until the budget kicks in on July 1. However, the secretary of state said lawmakers should allocate the fees the office collects to fund its operations.

“The reality is that small business owners are expecting the level of service that they are paying for, yet the majority of their fees are being redirected to the general fund,” Raffensperger wrote. “The professional licensing division brings in between $25 million- $30 million a year, and FY 25 is the first time that the division will receive an operating budget over $10 million.

“As Secretary of State, I believe that 100% of fees should go toward servicing the applicant, instead, the majority of the fees go toward the general fund,” he added. “It’s time for the funds to follow the applicant.”

Burns and Jones appointed four House members — state Reps. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin; Chuck Efstration, R–Auburn; Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville; and Brian Prince, D-Augusta — and four Senators — state Sens. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia; Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega; Larry Walker, R-Perry; and Derek Mallow, D-Savannah — to the committee, which is tasked with delivering a report by the end of the year that includes recommendations that could guide future legislative action.

Notably, Hatchett is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Tillery is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.