Chairman’s Corner: 2018 Constitutional Amendments

15 days until Election Day.
In addition to the candidates, there are five amendments to the Georgia Constitution on the ballot this year. While the Republican Party does not take an official position on these amendments, I hope we can answer some of the questions you may have.
Amendment 1 – Land conservation, parks, trails: This amendment will set aside a portion sales tax funds already being collected on sporting goods for conservation efforts. The goal is to raise $200 million over the next 10 years when the amendment automatically sunsets.
Amendment 2 -Business courts: This amendment would create special state business courts (supposedly out of the current state court budget) to specifically handle business litigation matters. Currently, State Courts and Superior Courts in the counties handle business matters. The goal is to have specialized judges hearing these cases. Also, unlike other Georgia judges, these Business Court judges would not be elected, but be appointed by the Governor with the approval of the Georgia House and Senate Judiciary Committees for a five-year term.
Amendment 3 – Timber tax: While the devil is in the details, this amendment is designed to lower the tax burden on timber landowners. There was already a tax provision passed in 2008 and this fixes some of the holes in that amendment. Georgia has one of the highest tax rates on timber that is between 3 and 6 times higher than neighboring states.
Amendment 4 – Crime victims’ rights: I will come out and say that I am voting for this amendment and Brian Kemp has endorsed it as well. Also known as “Marsy’s Law,” the amendment will require victims to not only be notified when certain proceedings occur. There is already a state law dealing with this issue, but there are several issues with the state law. First, many counties are ignoring the law as there are no repercussions for ignoring the law. The amendment will put the law on a constitutional rather than a statutory level and add teeth to go after jurisdictions that fail to notify.
There are valid criticisms, namely that a statutory change can accomplish the same thing without amending the Georgia Constitution and estimates that the cost burden may be as high as $11 million to comply with. Additionally, the notification are required even before a conviction which may mean some who have not been convicted of a crime may have to wait in jail longer because a victim couldn’t be found to be notified. Of course, the ultimate purpose is to make sure that an offender on bail or released from a sentence does not surprise a victim seeking revenge.
Amendment 5: Local option sales tax: This would remove the requirement that a county school system and a city schools system (like Cobb County Schools and Marietta City Schools) would have to agree before offering an amendment for a local option sale tax to support the school system. As noted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Cobb County State Sen. Lindsey Tippins has said the measure was proposed because there were situations across Georgia where independent school districts serving a small portion of a county’s students would “hold the larger districts hostage” on the referendum in hopes of obtaining a larger share of the tax proceeds.
I hope this helps explain the five amendments that will be on the ballot. You can read the ballot language and download a sample ballot on the Cobb Board of Elections webpage at www.cobbelections.org.
Just 15 days left.