How I Will Vote on Constitutional Amendments

Many times I am asked my opinion about various issues on the ballot. This year in Georgia we have four proposed amendments to ratify or reject.

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If you want to jump to a specific amendment, use the links below to go directly to the Proposed Amendment.

Proposed Amendment # 1 – Opportunity School District

Proposed Amendment # 2 – Georgia Additional Penalties for Sex Crimes to Fund Services for Sexually Exploited Children

Proposed Amendment # 3 – Georgia Replacement of the Judicial Qualifications Commission

Proposed Amendment # 4 – Uses of Revenue from Taxes on Fireworks

Just a little review on the process to amend the Constitution. A resolution to amend the Constitution must receive a 2/3 vote in the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate. If the resolution meets that super majority in both House and Senate, then it goes to the voters to ratify by a simple majority.

Four amendments received the necessary 2/3 vote by the House and Senate. Now it is our turn.

For each amendment, I will present the amendment as you will see it on the ballot. I will say how I plan to vote Yes or No and I will provide my reasons for my planned vote.

When your friends ask you what you think, please tell them about this page.  I share from a conservative, limited government, common sense, perspective. I trust that you will find my reasoning to be reasonable and helpful as you make your decision.



Proposed Amendment # 1 – Opportunity School District

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
( ) Yes
(X ) No

My Vote – No

Summary Reason:

The wording of this amendment is deceiving, particularly the last six words: “in order to improve student performance.” This amendment creates another layer of bureaucracy in the state. Education already consumes half of the state budget.

We have local school boards and a superintendent. We have a state school board and a state superintendent. Now this creates yet another school district with another superintendent under the Governor’s Office.

This superintendent will have sweeping powers and, be assured, this new school bureaucracy will grow. My vote is no.

Detail Reason:

A one question description is inadequate to fully explain the impact of a yes or a no vote. The wording of the amendment is designed to generate a yes vote.

Any conservative who believes in smaller government should give pause before voting “Yes.” This amendment creates yet more layers of bureaucracy and government growth beginning with the Opportunity School District (OSD).

The OSD would be under the Office of Student Achievement which is controlled by the Governor. The Governor appoints a School Superintendent for the OSD. The OSD Superintendent reports directly to the Governor. Here are some key quotes from the bill:

* The Opportunity School District shall be authorized to select up to 20 qualifying schools to add to the OSD in any single school year.

* the final selection of which schools are transferred into the OSD shall be in the sole discretion of the OSD Superintendent.

* The OSD Superintendent is authorized to waive specifically identified State Board of Education rules, regulations, policies, and procedures, or provisions of Chapter 2 of this title for opportunity schools.

These are just three bullet points that are found on a single page of the 13 page law. We are expected to conclude that these extra layers will result in “improved student performance.”

There is an addictive urge to grow a bureaucracy. Given the power to add 20 schools per year, you can predict that the OSD Superintendent will identify exactly 20 schools every year that need the special attention.

A candidate running for office will call for local control of education and smaller government. Yet this amendment does just the opposite. At some point, we have to seriously challenge and allow local communities to address their own educational issues at the local level.

If we really want to intervene in chronically failing schools, then offer school choice and let the money follow the student. We would see improvement in schools. Parents and students would then be valued customers.

Another bureaucracy to intervene in chronically failing schools will not improve student performance. Instead it will add more administrators, burn up more tax dollars, and frustrate local communities. It will also place yet heavier burdens on one group that can improve student performance – the classroom teacher.


 



Proposed Amendment # 2 – Georgia Additional Penalties for Sex Crimes to Fund Services for Sexually Exploited Children

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow additional penalties for criminal cases in which a person is adjudged guilty of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, pandering, pandering by compulsion, solicitation of sodomy, masturbation for hire, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, or sexual exploitation of children and to allow assessments on adult entertainment establishments to fund the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative and social services for individuals in this state who have been or may be sexually exploited?

(x) Yes
( )  No

My Vote – Yes (With Some Reservation)

Summary Reason:

The fact that an amendment of this nature is on the ballot is validation of the breakdown of the moral condition of our society.  Providing protection for the innocent and vulnerable individuals forced into human trafficking and focusing resources to fight this horror is not in question.

A yes vote authorizes the legislature to direct fines levied against crimes related to human trafficking to a trust fund.  It also provides for taxes on adult entertainment establishments to help offset the cost of social services for victims of human trafficking. My vote is yes.

Detail Reason and Reservations:

Addressing the issue of human trafficking and sexually exploited children is not a question of whether or not to do anything.  As a state we must do everything possible to stop this horror.  As it stands now, the legislature must appropriate funding for the law enforcement and social services each year.  Without an amendment to the constitution, the legislature is not allowed to create a fund that carries a balance forward from one year to the next.

The amendment allows the legislature to establish a dedicated fund that can carry over a balance from one year to the next. Certain fines and taxes would go directly to the fund and be restricted to use for care and rehabilitative services for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

It is completely appropriate that persons convicted of crimes relating to human trafficking and sexual exploitation be forced to help pay the costs to society resulting from their behavior.  It is also appropriate to assess taxes and fees on establishments that directly and indirectly create an environment that lends itself to encouraging human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

I am voting yes.  I do have reservations about long-term implications.  The first reservation is that the fines and taxes directed to the trust fund will likely fall short of the needs that exist.  These are victims of crimes and we must not turn our backs on them.  My reservation is that the legislature may point to the trust fund and proclaim that the problem is resolved.

The second reservation deals with the nature of organizations when there is a steady, dedicated flow of money. It is like the Field of Dreams. Instead of “if you build it, they will come”, it is “if you fund it, they will come.”  This creates a steady flow of money into a trust fund that does not require annual legislative approval.

We will see non-profit organizations show up to provide needed services.  There is a need for these services and good non-profits can meet those needs better than a government agency.  We must be aware that some will show up with more of a focus on getting a piece of the pie than on helping victims heal from the horror of human trafficking.

Even with these reservations, I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives for amendment 2. I will vote yes.




Proposed Amendment # 3 – Georgia Replacement of the Judicial Qualifications Commission

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to abolish the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission; require the General Assembly to create and provide by general law for the composition, manner of appointment, and governance of a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, with such commission having the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges; require the Judicial Qualifications Commission to have procedures that provide for due process of law and review by the Supreme Court of its advisory opinions; and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?
( x) YES
( ) NO

Reason:

The current Judicial Qualifications Commission is composed of 2 judges appointed by the Supreme Court, 3 lawyers appointed by the State Bar Association, and 2 citizens who are not members of the State Bar appointed by the Governor. The Judicial Qualifications Commission has sweeping authority to “discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges.”

What concerns me most about the current status is the power vested in the State Bar, a private organization, to exercise powers with no accountability to the people through the elected members of the General Assembly. The Amendment abolishes the current Judicial Qualifications and returns the rightful authority to the General Assembly to “create the Judicial Qualifications Commission and establish the composition, manner of appointment, and governance.”

Our founding fathers referred to checks and balances. The current state has no check or balance on an independent body that is not even selected by our elected representatives. The legislative branch should have the ability to consider, debate, adopt, and amend when necessary, the legal authority and boundaries of the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

The arguments against this amendment are mostly based on the charges of legislative cronyism. I do not think that the State Bar of Georgia is necessarily as pure as new fallen snow. Cronyism will exist in any organization (especially an organization composed of lawyers.) The General Assembly may be filled with a bunch of old cronies, but at least they are my cronies.

My Vote is Yes



Proposed Amendment # 4 – Uses of Revenue from Taxes on Fireworks

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the proceeds of excise taxes on the sale of fireworks or consumer fireworks be dedicated to the funding of trauma care, firefighter equipping and training, and local public safety purposes?
( x) YES
( ) NO

Reason:

This amendment is not about legalizing fireworks or increasing taxes. The General Assembly has already done that and they did not need an amendment to do so.

Georgia ended its long time ban on fireworks in 2015. Sales of fireworks were legal in the surrounding states and the billboard companies were perfectly fine with Georgia’s ban. On the interstates and major highways near the state lines drivers were greeted with images of the rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air and offers for the best deals ever.

Although possession was illegal, it was a law that was rarely enforced and pretty much openly ignored on holidays such as 4th of July and New Years day. Those who were advocates of freedom and personal liberty said that the outlawing of fireworks was nothing more than another example of the nanny state robbing freedom in the name of safety and fire prevention.

Between the loss of tax revenue, loss of jobs in retail sales, and perhaps in deference to advocates of personal freedom, House Bill 110 amended Georgia’s ban on the sale, use, and possession of fireworks. It also established a 5% excise tax on the sale of fireworks. Those taxes are now being collected and go into the general fund to be appropriated each session by the General Assembly.

This amendment designates the revenues from the excise tax for certain purposes and allows the designated funds to carry forward any balances from year to year. The funds may only be used for the purposes established in the funds. Senate Bill 350 set the allocation as follows:

  • 55 percent of revenue would go toward the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission
  • 40 percent of revenue would go toward the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council. Specifically, the revenue would be used to fund a grant program for improving the equipment and training of Georgia firefighters.
  • 5 percent of revenue would go toward local governments, to be used specifically for public safety purposes

The General Assembly determined to make fireworks legal in Georgia and tax the sales. This amendment directs the purposes of those taxes so that the funds are not mixed into the general fund to be appropriated.

My Vote is Yes.

I trust that you will find these reviews helpful in making your decision on how to vote on the Amendments to the Georgia Constitution. Sign below to get my commentaries sent directly to your in-box.

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