As voters in Georgia go to the polls starting this week for early voting and continue to vote by absentee ballot, voters will be asked to consider three amendments to the Georgia constitution. Georgia’s constitution has been amended 87 times since Georgians adopted the current version of the constitution in 1983. Voters commonly do not know what exactly they are voting on when they consider constitutional amendments and the ballot language sometimes reads as patriotic as mom and apple pie. To help provide more information as you consider the constitutional amendments this year, we prepared the following short summary of the three amendments on the ballot. These amendments require a majority vote of the public to become law. All of these amendments passed the Georgia General Assembly with strong bipartisan support and very little opposition.
Amendment # 1
Wording: “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?”
Though state law imposes certain fees or taxes, once collected, those fees or taxes commonly are paid into the State’s general fund and not to address the specific issue for which the fee or tax was intended. A common example is the $1 state-mandated tire disposal fee that people pay when purchasing new tires. If passed, this amendment would require that the funds collected from certain fees or taxes would be used for their stated purpose and not put into the State’s general fund.
Amendment # 2
Wording: “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?”
As discussed previously in this blog, under current Georgia law, parties are limited in the types of lawsuits they can file against the government because of sovereign immunity, which means that sometimes parties are barred from suing state and local government officials who are alleged to have acted beyond their authority. If the constitutional amendment is passed by a majority of voters, people will be able to bring a lawsuit to seek declaratory and equitable relief against state and local governments for acts that are “outside the scope of lawful authority or in violation of the laws or the Constitution of this state or the Constitution of the United States.” Such cases could be brought regarding “past, current, or prospective acts which occur on or after January 1, 2021” and could be brought against state and local government officials.
Amendment # 3
Wording: “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 amendment, if approved by the voters, would exempt from taxes all real property that is owned by 501(c)(3) public charities and that is held “exclusively for the purpose of building or repairing single-family homes” that are financed by such charities at zero interest loans. A common example of such a non-profit is Habitat for Humanity. Voting yes would waive the property taxes for such a non-profit.
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