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Two constitutional amendments on ballot

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Voters will also decide on referendum to benefit nonprofits

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    Absentee ballots will arrive in an envelope from the Georgia Secretary of State with “official absentee ballot” in bold print. CONTRIBUTED

Georgia voters who have already requested and received an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 election may have been surprised to find two constitutional amendments and one statewide referendum on the ballot.

Amendments to the Georgia Constitution are generally started in one of the chambers of the General Assembly – either the House or Senate. Amendments must be approved by two-thirds of each chamber before going to voters.

The other option for amending the Constitution is to call for a constitutional convention.

Amendment 1 – HR 164

The amendment calls for requiring revenue derived from fees or taxes to be used for the public purpose intended by the creation of those fees or taxes.

Any law dedicating funds intended for a public purpose must “identify the specific public purpose, name the state agency to administer the funds, require the agency to make annual reports of revenues and expenses and automatically end the fee or tax within 10 years,” according to a summary provided by state officials.

The amendment would prevent attempts to “reallocate dedicated funds through any appropriates act or amendment.”

An emergency declaration by the Governor or General Assembly could provide a temporary suspension of the requirement of how to spend public funds.

The amendment specifically refers to the excise tax on the sale of fireworks and the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Fund.

A constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016 allowed an excise tax on the sale of fireworks states that revenue will be used for trauma care (55 percent), fire services (40 percent) and local public safety purposes (5 percent).

An amendment passed by voters in 2018 allowed for 80 percent of sales tax collected from the sales and use of outdoor recreation equipment to be dedicated to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to fund land conservation.

Amendment 2 – HR 1023

The second amendment on the ballot asks if state and local governments can be sued for violation of state laws and state and federal constitutions.

Protection from such lawsuits comes under a term called sovereign immunity, which is the principle that a sovereign or government cannot be sued without its consent.

According to the Cornell Law School, the principle is “derived from British common law doctrine based on the idea that the King could do no wrong.”

Approval of the amendment would “allow citizens to sue the State of Georgia, its departments and other agencies, and its local governments in superior courts,” according to a summary provided by the state.

Courts would then be allowed to order “state and local officers and employees to cease violations of the Georgia Constitution, the laws of the State of Georgia or the United States Constitution, beginning with violations occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2021.”

The amendment further states that lawsuits be brought only against the state or local government. Lawsuits against individual state or local public officers as defendants would be dismissed.

The law would also prohibit “any type of monetary award, including attorney’s fees or costs of litigation.”

Referendum 1 – HB 344

The sole referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot would exempt real property owned by a public charity that is exempt from federal taxes with a few requirements.

The property has to be used for the charity to build or repair singlefamily homes that will be financed by the charity using zero interest loans.

After the property is purchased from the charity, it would then become taxable property for the individual owner.

Important dates

For those who would like to request an absentee ballot, visit ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 30. That request can be placed online or by contacting the Jones County elections office at 478-986-3222.

Once an absentee ballot is received, the deadline to return it is Nov. 3 in person or postmarked by Nov. 3 via mail.

Early voting will be Oct. 13-30. Precincts will also be open for in-person voting on Election Day.

To check voter registration status, visit mvp.sos.ga.gov.