Georgia 2016 ballot measures

Posted by Bruce Duncil

This November 8th general election you will find for your approval 4 proposed Amendments – in the form of questions – to the Georgia Constitution.  These ballot measures can be found on the Secretary of State’s website.  A majority of voters approving a question (voting ‘Yes’) will result in the passage of that Amendment and its implementing legislation.  A majority of voters disapproving a question (voting ‘No’) will not affect the existing Constitution nor any state law.  Proper assessment of each of the four questions will require a little advance preparation.  The following summary of each question can help guide your choices, and we strongly encourage you to do your own research.  However we believe that amending the State Constitution should not be done lightly, and should only be considered when such a change would limit the size and scope of government, reduce taxes and fees, or advance the cause of individual liberty and personal responsibility.  As such we are recommending a ‘NO’ vote on all of the Georgia 2016 ballot measures.

Note that if what they wanted do was Constitutional, they could just make a law.  So, by definition, what they are trying to do now is currently against the Constitution, so their solution is to change the Constitution to allow them to pass the law they want.

Question No. 1 (Senate Resolution – S.R. 287): Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?

As currently required under the Constitution, each school district in Georgia is under the management and control of a locally elected board of education.  A ‘No’ vote will leave current school governance intact and local voters will retain control of their schools through their elected boards.

This Amendment, if passed, however, will cause the state to assume the supervision, management and operation of any school which has been determined to be “failing” as defined by any governance model allowed by law.  This control will include the power to receive, control and expend state, federal and local funds appropriated for that school.  This would be implemented, as outlined in S.B. 133, by the state creating a Georgia-wide “Opportunity School District (OSD)” into which schools deemed to be failing in any local school district would be rotated.  The OSD would be operated under a governor-appointed Superintendent within the Office of Student Achievement.   In accordance with S.B. 133, a school would be automatically placed into the OSD if it were rated ‘F’ based on the State Board of Education’s approved accountability system for 3 consecutive years.  The law provides for a number of different ‘intervention models’ available to the OSD Superintendent in making institutional changes towards a goal of purportedly improving the ‘failing’ school’s annual score.

This amendment has been roundly criticized for, among other things, being deceptively worded.

UTPOG Position: Vote ‘No’.  This Amendment would authorize the state to usurp parental control of any school not meeting state criteria, creates additional state education bureaucracy without providing any guarantee of improved education.

 

Question No. 2 (Senate Resolution – S.R. 7): 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?

A ‘No’ vote will leave unchanged the authority of the state legislature to allocate monies for the purposes currently outlined in the Constitution, will not add additional allocations of funding, nor will it change current assessments, regulations, and penalties for the above-mentioned criminal cases and businesses.

This Amendment, if passed, however, will create a new fund, the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund, and a new state-appointed 8-member Commission of the same name as its overseer as proscribed in S.B. 8, “Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law Act”.   The proposed law makes substantive changes to an array of criminal activities, their definitions and penalties.  It also includes financial assessments on businesses that allow alcohol consumption and provide performances and interactions involving nudity which the Assembly believes further what they consider to be secondary effects including the prostitution and sexual exploitation of children.  Fund proceeds, as well as federal funding and donations, would be used to meet the cost of care and rehabilitative and social services, including residential housing and health services, for individuals deemed to have been sexually exploited.  The Commission will coordinate all bureaucratic response and lead further changes in all aspects of care to improve such children’s conditions.

Sue Ella Deadwyler of Georgia Insight (www.georgiainsight.org) noted the following unforeseen consequence of the proposal that would undermine its intent and cause significant havoc: the proposed law makes no distinction between voluntary and forced sex offenders, thus complicating law enforcement, and deeming all participants under age 18 – regardless of their true culpability – as victims and would make them eligible, even if undeservedly, to receive benefits and services.

Also note that this imposes taxes and fees on certain businesses that are legal but that the state has decided are ‘bad.’  We believe this sets a dangerous precedent – changing the state constitution to impose additional financial burden on a certain segment of the population we have deemed undesirable.

UTPOG Position: Vote ‘No’.  While the goal is noble, this Amendment would create additional state bureaucracy and expand taxpayer funded services without providing any guarantee of reducing the number of exploited children.  This Amendment constitutes significant ad-hoc changes to criminal statutes and would produce a social experiment that carries the potential for extraordinarily negative unforeseen consequences.  Senator Renee Unterman, the chief proponent, said a Constitutional Amendment was needed so it would go on in perpetuity, meaning that this “tax/funding” would go on forever. She claimed in the conversation that unless she (and she alone) was in the GA Senate, it would not get funded. But isn’t this one of the reasons why the Federal Gov’t budget is so out-of-control?

 

Question No. 3 (Senate Resolution – S.R. 1113):  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 Qualification Commission to be open to the public in some manner?

A ‘No’ vote will leave intact the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission, having the power to discipline, remove and cause involuntary retirement of judges in accordance with Supreme Court rules, the Commission’s current composition, and its Supreme Court oversight.  The 7-member Commission is currently comprised of two judges selected by the Supreme Court, three members of the State Bar of Georgia elected by their Board of Governors, and two citizens (not Bar members) appointed by the governor.   The Constitution specifies that the findings and records of the Commission are not open to the public.

This Amendment, if passed, however, will completely reconstitute the members of the Commission and adopt new rules defined in H.B. 808 for its operation.  Until January 1, 2021, Commission membership will undergo two transitions.  After that date, its composition will include: two judges selected by the Supreme Court, one Bar member appointed by the President of the Senate from a list of 10 nominees submitted by the Bar’s Board, one Bar member appointed by the Speaker of the House from a list of 10 nominees submitted by the Bar’s Board, one citizen voter (non-Bar member) appointed by the President of the Senate, one citizen voter (non-Bar member) appointed by the Speaker of the House, and one Bar member appointed by the governor who shall serve as Commission chair.  The Commission, whose composition will be heavily weighted by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, will adopt procedures for its own governance.  Contrary to the insinuation in the Ballot Question that such a Commission does not currently exist, this proposed Amendment simply reallocates the authority by which it is to be staffed, placing it more directly under the control of the Georgia legislature.  Contrary to the insinuation in the Ballot Question of (new) Commission transparency, H.B. 808 specifies strict limits on disclosure of papers filed with and proceedings before the new Commission and requires that information submitted to it and testimony in its proceedings is privileged and confidential as well as conditions of limited lifting of confidentiality.

Georgia Insight provided information behind this proposed Amendment by pointing to the April 5th resignation of Mr. Lester Tate, the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) chair.  Mr. Tate stated that over 60 judges had been removed in the past 8 years by the independent Commission but the Georgia legislature was now intent on taking control of the Commission to “only discipline(s) judges who are politically unpopular, and do(es) absolutely nothing to judges who are popular….”.  The story was carried by local media – click HERE to read.

UTPOG Position: Vote ‘No’.  This Amendment provides no basis that it will in any way improve judiciary performance but, rather, carries the potential for extreme political meddling in what has heretofore been an independent judiciary review process.

 

Question No. 4 (Senate Resolution – S.R. 558):  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?

A ‘No’ vote will leave unchanged the authority of the state legislature to allocate monies for the purposes currently outlined in the Constitution, will not add additional allocations of funding, nor will it add additional tax on the purchase of legally authorized fireworks in Georgia.

This Amendment, if passed, however, will impose an additional 5% tax on the sale of commercial fireworks which would be allocated as proscribed in S.B. 350, as follows: 55% of funds would be provided to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission; 40% to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council; and 5% to local governments for public safety.   This funding would be in addition to existing funding otherwise provided for these organizations and their purposes.  Contrary to such insinuation in the Ballot Question otherwise, the proposed Amendment does not affect the allocation of current taxes on these sales.

UTPOG Position: Vote ‘No’.  This Amendment provides no basis for the necessity of such a tax increase and creates additional state bureaucracy without providing any guarantee of improving existing services.