There are five constitutional amendments and one state-wide referendum question on the Nov. 4 ballot for Georgia voters to decide. In considering whether to support or oppose the amendments, the legal language can make it difficult to determine what the actual effect of the amendment or question would be.
The following is an explanation of the amendments and referendum question in plain language that hopefully will allow you to decide how you feel about the issues. The resolution that passes the legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot is often times very simple and basically lays out the question. For most constitutional questions to be put into effect, enacting legislation must be passed which specifically addresses the issue that the constitutional amendment allows. Normally, but not always, this legislation is passed after the constitutional question is settled.
Amendment No. 1
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to make Georgia more economically competitive by authorizing legislation to uphold reasonable competitive agreements?”
This is an example of a question being crafted with the ballot in mind. Frankly there is no way a citizen could determine from the question what you are allowing here. The question is designed to lead the reader to a positive conclusion without much of an explanation.
Enacting legislation passed in 2009 (HB 173, Ga. Laws 2009, pg 231) but will only be put into effect if this constitutional amendment passes.
Apparently the present constitution prohibits or impairs “non-compete” contracts typically between companies and employees that limit what they can do if they leave the employment of that company-hence the “non-compete” clause. Supporters believe this change will free companies to write tighter contracts with employees and protect trade secrets and/or competitive information. Examples of these contracts given were an agreement between an employer and an employee that limits employment in competing industries when leaving the current employer. This “non-compete” clause could extend to banning selling to the present employers’ customers or other related customers. Judges could also, under this amendment, alter an agreement’s provision to satisfy legal requirements. An argument against this broadening of these clauses is that it may inhibit a person’s ability to practice his or her profession in a small competitive industry.
Amendment No. 2
This will probably be the most controversial amendment and will likely have ads pro and con running on TV this fall. This constitutional amendment would allow the collection of an additional tag fee of $10 that would not go into the state treasury but would be constitutionally directed to fund trauma hospitals around the state. There are no “level 1” trauma centers in the southern portions of Georgia, an area so large you could place the country of Austria into it. Trauma centers have staffed specialists that can take care of a victim of severe injuries 24/7. Of course in many of these type accidents, the first hour determines survival or eventual recovery so distance even by helicopter is tremendously important. Obviously this is very expensive operationally and hospitals have sought a source of trauma funding for several years. A Trauma Commission has been set up to monitor and dispense the funds. The fee is estimated to raise about $82 million dollars that would not be commingled in the state treasury but be directed to the Trauma Commission.
This is controversial because it is a tax increase by some people’s estimation and many will look at it that way. It is doubtful that funding at anything like this level will be forthcoming from state coffers in the foreseeable future.
Amendment No. 3
In the upheaval last year concerning the Department of Transportation contracts, an Attorney General’s opinion concluded that DOT could not start multiyear projects and obligate any of those funds from future revenues. The ruling was that the entire amount of a project had to be on hand when the contract was awarded. Something like the multiyear awarding of contracts is fairly common practice in many states although there are safeguards normally built in that limit the total of funded out-year projects.
This amendment allows the DOT to issue multiyear contracts on large projects without having all of the funds required actually on hand. The key here is the enacting legislation and whether there are sufficient controls to keep the department from overextending the state’s obligations. This amendment does allow for the cancellation of any multiyear contract due to insufficiency of funds.
The enacting legislation being proposed for the 2011 Session would create an 8 percent “pot” which could not be exceeded with multiyear obligations.
Amendment No. 4
This amendment is similar to Amendment No. 3 because it allows the state to execute multiyear contracts to improve energy efficiency and conservation, the contracts would be limited to 25 years. Presently the state is prohibited from entering into multiyear contracts with vendors. In this case, for equipment and so forth would be guaranteed through a contract with vendors with the lease payments to be gained from increases in energy efficiencies. The enacting legislation (Act No. 669, Ga Laws 2010, page 352) is available, incidentally, at probate judges’ office for public inspection.
The enacting legislation allows for multi-year contracts for state agencies for very narrow purposes involving generating energy savings and with those savings from energy costs being the payback instrument. Vendors offering these contracts must place funds into escrow accounts and those funds could be drafted if the promised savings do not materialize yearly.
Amendment No. 5
This constitutional amendment only applies to two counties, Chatham and Jeff Davis, and has to do with undoing 1950s era constitutional amendments. This amendment allows property owners to remove their property from a specific industrial area.
Because the land was established years ago under a “local constitutional amendment” — a practice the General Assembly no longer uses — a constitutional amendment is needed to annex the land parcel in question.
Proposed statewide referendum question
“Shall the Act be approved which grants an exemption from state ad valorem taxation for inventory of a business?”
Who said, “The problem with redundancy is that it repeats itself over and over?”
This referendum question is redundant in that it exempts business inventory from the one quarter mill the state receives from property taxes. Of course, this past session the legislature passed two tax cuts, one of which was the phasing out of the one quarter mill the state gets from local property taxes. So business inventory and in fact, all property will be free from state taxation by 2016.
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E-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov
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