Greetings from the Gold Dome. As you all know, we have an especially important election coming up, Nov. 3. Aside from choosing your preferred presidential candidate, you will also have the task of casting your vote for your Georgia General Assembly representation, as well as various amendments which will directly change our state Constitution if passed. Most do not take the time to research ballot questions prior to an election, so I wanted to ensure that you are in the know when it comes to these important questions that Georgia voters will ultimately determine.
What are the Amendments on Georgia’s general election ballot? What do they mean for Georgia?
Since the completion of the 2020 session, I have received several questions regarding the upcoming amendments on the November ballot. Anytime the General Assembly wants to “change” the Georgia Constitution, we are required to first pass the proposal with a 2/3 vote in both the Senate and the House. Proposals passed will then move to the general election ballot, allowing Georgia citizens to have the final say. This election cycle we have two amendments and one statewide referendum up for consideration. The ballot referendum is a binding act but does not entail a revision to the Georgia Constitution. I have taken the liberty of explaining each amendment.
Amendment 1: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to dedicate revenues derived from fees or taxes to the public purpose for which such fees or taxes were intended?
This amendment comes from the passage of House Resolution 164, which was initially introduced in the House in 2019. If passed, HR 164 will amend the Georgia State Constitution and allow the Georgia General Assembly to dedicate funds the state collects from fees or taxes to the purpose for which the taxes are imposed. Listed below are the terms of the amendment:
♦ The law creating the fee must refer to the amendment and specify the purpose for which the fee will be used;
♦ A state agency must be identified as the administer the funds;
♦ Requires an annual reporting of the use of the funds;
♦ Fee must include a “sunset date” (or end date) no later than 10 years from when the fee is first imposed;
♦ In the case of a declared financial emergency, the dedication of revenue may be suspended and used for other purposes.
In short, this measure is an additional check and balance to ensure that fees and taxes go where originally intended for a specific purpose, not allowing reallocation to be dumped into the budget for general use, unless the governor deems it necessary during a Financial State of Emergency.
Amendment 2: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to waive sovereign immunity and allow the people of Georgia to petition the Superior Court for relief from governmental acts done outside the scope of lawful authority or which violate the laws of this state, the Constitution of Georgia or the Constitution of the United States?
The second amendment, brought forth through the passage of House Resolution 1023, allows Georgians to take legal action against state or local governments if those entities act outside of government’s lawful authority. If passed, this amendment would remove the “sovereign immunity” clause granted to state and local governments under certain circumstances. No damages, attorney’s fees, or litigation costs can be awarded in a lawsuit authorized by this amendment. In short, this amendment ensures that local and state governments do not overstep their constitutional authority, ultimately safeguarding a citizen’s individual rights as intended by our founding principles.
Statewide Referendum A: Shall the act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes for all real property owned by a purely public charity, if such charity is exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the federal Internal Revenue Code and such real property is held exclusively for the purpose of building or repairing single-family homes to be financed by such charity to individuals using loans that shall not bear interest?
This referendum, if passed, would establish a property tax exemption for real property owned by a purely public charity that is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. This exemption would only apply if the charity is also exempt from federal taxation and the property is being used only for building or repairing single-family homes to be financed by the charity to individuals using zero-interest loans. A prime example of this type of tax-exempt organization is Habitat for Humanity.
I hope these explanations have helped you muddle through the language and further give you an idea of what these measures will accomplish if passed. Folks so often think that their vote does not count. This notion could not be farther from the truth. When we bring forth amendments that will ultimately impact financial accountability in the state budget, citizens’ rights, and taxes, I assure you, every vote counts. I highly encourage you to research each amendment, reach your own conclusion and vote your conscience in November. Of course, if you have further questions regarding amendment, referendum questions or anything at all, please feel free to reach out to me any time.