Georgians voting in the Nov. 3 general election will decide the fate of two amendments to the state Constitution supporters have been pushing for years.
A third ballot question is being pitched as a way to increase Georgia’s stock of affordable housing.
Here is a description of the three statewide referendum measures in the order they appear on the Nov. 3 ballot:
Constitutional Amendment 1Georgians can tell state lawmakers that money collected for special funds must be spent as originally intended.
That would mean fees like the $1 charged to dispose of tires can only pay for clearing illegal tire dumps and other environmental hazards instead of being diverted to the state’s general fund.
If the amendment passes, legislators still need to pass legislation next year to make the fee dedication a state law.
Supporters point to a history of Georgia governors and lawmakers raiding the state’s Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste Trust funds when money is tight.
Under the proposal, the governor can temporarily suspend the requirement to dedicate all fees to a trust fund in a financial emergency. It also prohibits designating 1% or more of total state revenues during a given year to trust funds, and any fee or tax intended to fund a specific purpose automatically expires after 10 years.
Constitutional Amendment 2Asks voters if they want to waive the state’s sovereign immunity law that says local and state governments must first agree to be sued in state court before someone can challenge a law’s constitutionality.
The amendment stems from a 2014 Georgia Supreme Court decision that virtually gave the state blanket immunity from citizen lawsuits in a case brought by the Center for a Sustainable Coast.
Supporters put the measure into the form of a constitutional amendment after two governors vetoed previous bills passed by the General Assembly.
Unlike statutes, constitutional amendments bypass the governor and go directly to Georgia voters.
The ballot question has bipartisan support from legislators who want to let Georgians ask state court judges to issue a declaratory judgment when governments exceed their authority.
State Rep. Andrew Welch, R-McDonough, said the proposed amendment includes provisions to limit the scope of citizen lawsuits. It prohibits plaintiffs from recovering monetary damages or attorney fees.
“We don’t want people just filing frivolous lawsuits to try to generate attorney fees,” Welch said. “This is about upholding legal rights.”
Referendum ACreates a tax exemption for real property owned by charities. This aims to provide a tax break to charitable organizations like Habitat for Humanity who build or repair single-family homes.
If passed, the measure would help grow the stock of affordable housing in Georgia, particularly in small cities and rural communities, said Ryan Willoughby, executive director of Columbus-based Habitat for Humanity of Georgia.
“Every dollar we can save makes a difference in terms of completing a project in a timely manner,” he said.
Information compiled from reports by Dave Williams of Capitol Beat News Service and Stanley Dunlap of Georgia Recorder.