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On the Topic of the Other Boxes: A Summary of Amendments Proposed to Georgia Voters

Georgia voters have more than just the presidential race to think about as they head to the voting booths this election cycle.

The arrival of November 8th will bring with it the end of a long, entertaining, frustrating, and above all decisive general election process that will certainly have more consequences than the simple restocking of the White House’s inhabitants. Though the tallies next to the names ‘Clinton’ and ‘Trump’ prove to be the main motivator for eligible citizens making their way to voting stations this year, the 2016 Georgia ballot offers a couple more opportunities for voters to become involved in the political process in the form of ‘down ballot’ voting on four proposed amendments to the Georgia state constitution. In Georgia, as well as in the majority of other states, amendments to the state constitution are proposed through the referral of the legislature. In other words, the Georgia voters are in effect tasked with ratifying any constitutional amendment proposed by the state.

Whereas many people vote according to party for most House and Senate as well as city, state and county positions, the various amendments require a more careful approach. Better than leaving those other boxes blank or picking on a whim is acquiring the knowledge of the legislative history and meaning behind the proposals. “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost” as John Quincy Adams noted. Without further ado, what follows is a summary of the four amendments proposed by the state legislature that will appear on the ballot come the first week of November, a week that is fast-approaching.

Amendment One

THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE has covered the first proposed amendment to the state’s constitution in detail here. The following is an excerpt from the piece:

The first and certainly most hotly debated amendment to the state constitution will appear as a yes or no question presented on the ballot as follows: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”

To summarize Amendment One to the State Constitution: It allows the state to assume the “supervision, management, and operation of public elementary and secondary schools” which have been determined to be ‘failing’ three years in a row according to a measure “based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student growth.” Qualified schools would stay under state control until the completion of three consecutive years of a passing grade or a maximum of ten years under state control. The state would be limited to having under its control only 100 schools at any given time. In the case of a state takeover, the Governor would select a Superintendent who, after being confirmed by the Senate, would “serve at the pleasure of the Governor” and “shall annually provide a report” on the schools under the control of the state.

. . .

The Superintendent would be authorized to carry out a number of tasks, among them: managing a qualifying school, applying a qualifying school to become a charter school, and/or the closure of a qualifying school and reassigning of its students to surrounding schools “as an intervention of last resort.” In the end, your vote will either take a risk in handing the responsibility of failing schools off to another, more centralized, less locally-controlled, and perhaps equally-ineffective state entity or entrust yet again the arguably ineffective efforts of local school boards in turning around the schools which have been failing the youth of Georgia and perpetuating inequities of opportunity. There is a reason that this amendment is so hotly debated, and it is not one that stems from a mere political divide.

Amendment Two

The second proposed amendment to Georgia’s constitution will appear as a yes or no question phrased as follows: “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?”

Approved in the Georgia State Senate with a vote of 53-3, there is really no trick with this one. It enacts an additional fine on convicted sex traffickers and an annual revenue fee on adult entertainment businesses such as strip clubs. The revenue will cover the costs of “care and rehabilitative and social services” of victims of sexual crimes by way of the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund. This bill is also known as “Rachel’s Law,” referring to the name of a victim of sexual trafficking who testified to the Georgia General Assembly just last year. The only opposition is to the fee on adult entertainment businesses, who, it is argued, have no part in sex trafficking and should not be punished for the crime indirectly.

Amendment Three

The third amendment will appear as a yes or no question phrased on the ballot as: “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?”  

Written into the state constitution in 1972, the Judicial Qualifications Committee (JQC) is tasked with carrying out “investigations and hearings with respect to complaints of ethical misconduct by Georgia judges according to the JQC website. In other words, the commission is a sort of police force for judges in the state. For a hypothetical example, if a complaint was filed against a judge for being under the influence while on duty, the commission would investigate the case and subsequently decide on a punishment or even removal from position.

The proposed amendment, however, has to do with the appointing process of the JQC, which currently has seven members selected in the following manner: three by the State Bar of Georgia, two by the Supreme Court, and two (who must be non-lawyer “citizens”) by the Governor. Essentially, voting yes on Amendment Three will give the General Assembly the broad power of appointing and removing the entirety of the Judicial Qualifications Commission. The Amendment does, however, mandate that the Supreme Court okay any such decision. As uninteresting as the third amendment may sound, it is one that has not received its due amount of the public’s attention and concern. Legitimate individual and organizational opposition, though, is rightfully plenty. In his AJC article, Jay Bookman cautions that the amendment “would inject the heavy hand of politics into a process in which politics should play no role.” Republican Senator for the District 29 Josh McKoon says that, should the amendment pass, the state is “heading for a crisis.” The State Bar of Georgia and Georgians for Judicial Integrity have also taken a stance against the amendment, citing, among other reasons, the JQC’s effectiveness (which renders the amendment unnecessary) and the need for a judicial body such as the JQC to be independent of politics.

Amendment Four

The fourth and final amendment will appear as a yes or no question phrased: “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?

After legalizing fireworks in the state just last year, the Senate has taken note of the possibility of an increase in firework-related injuries in Georgia and found it a good opportunity to use some of the tax revenue gained from firework sales to help with safety purposes outlined above. The only significant detail that can be added to the ballot wording is that the funds, obtained solely from excise taxes on fireworks, will be allocated as follows: 55 percent to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, 40 percent to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council “to be exclusively used for the implementation of a grant program to improve the equipping and training of firefighters,” and the remaining 5 percent to be used by local governments “solely for public safety purposes consisting of the operation of 9-1-1 systems. 


For non-Georgia voters , many other states are proposing amendments of their own as well. Four states, including Arkansas and Florida, vote on various medicinal marijuana legalization laws while five, including Nevada, Massachusetts, and California, vote to legalize marijuana entirely. Five states vote to raise the minimum wage in the state. Colorado, for example, proposes a gradual increase of the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Other hot topics include gun control measures and health care legislation.

As important as the checkmarks next to the names Clinton and Trump, it can be argued, are the less flashy changes to each state’s constitution. It is the closest aspect of the US governmental system to a direct democracy and therefore the most important mode of participation per individual for the democracy. Voters have outright control over the implication of these specific laws; the state system has done its part. What is left for the voters is to educate themselves on the issues, because as Thomas Jefferson aptly professed, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”  

All quotes stylized in italics (except for the excerpt) are taken directly from each bill as passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Governor Nathan Deal. To access the bills, click the respective subtitles.  

— Nick Geeslin is Managing Editor of the THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE.

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