Deal told reporters he signed an order suspending state Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville). The governor said it was “a sad occasion” but that he was required by law to sign the order after the review commission made its recommendation.
A grand jury indicted state Sen. Don Balfour in September on felony charges of making a false certificate, theft by taking and a count of false statement and writing. He is accused of illegally claiming legislative expense pay and double-billing the state and his private employer for some expenses.
Ken Hodges, an attorney for Balfour, said they respect the panel’s decision but disagree with the recommendation. Balfour didn’t intentionally turn in fraudulent reports and looks forward to defending himself in court, Hodges said.
“Unfortunately today, politics ruled, not the law, and not even simple fairness,” Hodges said, adding that he expects the suspension to be lifted by the time the Legislature reconvenes.
Senate Republican leaders reacted swiftly.
The Senate Committee on Assignments met Wednesday and removed Balfour as chairman of the Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, as vice chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, and as an ex-officio member of the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee. The president of the Senate also removed him from the Senate State Fair Tax Study Committee.
The leadership of the Senate Republican Caucus held a conference call Wednesday and decided to suspend him as a member of the caucus, according to a letter sent to Balfour by caucus secretary Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega.)
Two Republican state lawmakers and a retired Georgia Supreme Court chief justice held a hearing Wednesday to determine whether to suspend Balfour. Under the Georgia Constitution, Deal was required to follow the committee’s recommendation to suspend Balfour pending the outcome of his criminal case or until the expiration of his term.
Balfour has been under legal scrutiny for payments he received for his work in the General Assembly.
He previously agreed to pay a $5,000 fine issued by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting pay for in-state work and travel on days when he was elsewhere. Lawmakers can only claim pay if they are conducting official business inside Georgia. They can collect expenses while traveling outside the state if they are part of an approved delegation.