Ballot includes 4 constitutional amendments

On Nov. 8, Georgians will have the opportunity to vote for city, county, state and federal offices and decide if the state constitution should be amended.

The four amendments include:

• creating an opportunity school district to allow the state to take control of schools that are defined as chronically failing for five to 10 years.

• establishing additional financial penalties for certain sex-related crimes and a tax on the adult entertainment industry. People who are convicted of these crimes could be sentenced to prison, fines and a new penalty that would go to the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund that provides services for victims.

• placing the Judicial Qualifications Commission under the control of the Georgia General Assembly where legislators would appoint members and govern the rules and procedures.

• enacting an excise tax on fireworks sales with 55 percent of the revenue going to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, 40 percent to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council and 5 percent to local governments for public safety uses.

The Camden Roundtable asked local residents to speak about the four amendments at a recent meeting.

Opportunity school district

Herb Rowland, a retired educator and chairman of the Camden County Board of Education, spoke about the education amendment and read the ballot language: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?” 

“That sounds good but the devil is in the details, folks,” Rowland said. “Because the opportunity school district is a proposed state-level bureaucracy, another level of bureaucracy that would be created for schools that had scored 60 or below on Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index for three consecutive years.”

The measure is a constitutional amendment because it’s unconstitutional and needs to be constitutional to be enacted, Rowland said. If a school was placed under state control, local school districts would pay for the maintenance on the schools without any input about other aspects.

“The children that would be affected by this are making progress,” Rowland said.

The vast majority, 160 out of 180, of school districts in Georgia, including Camden County Schools, oppose the amendment.

Penalties for sex crimes

Justin Conway, who works with Camden County Court Appointed Special Advocates, spoke about the law allowing additional financial penalties for some sex crimes and taxing adult entrainment establishments to generate about $2 million.

The money would then go to paying “for care and rehabilitative and social services for individuals in this state who have been or may be sexually exploited,” according to the ballot, and legislators and the governor would distribute the money to religious organizations and nonprofits that can help, Conway said, noting that he wanted to see oversight into how the money was spent.

“Pros? It’s money that’s needed that doesn’t come out of the taxpayers’ pockets and cons, the change to the constitution which has to be weighed heavily and also how the funds are distributed,” Conway said.

Conway said he supported the amendment but wanted more oversight.

Judicial qualifications

Mike Rich, a retired attorney, spoke about the Judicial Qualifications Commission and the fireworks amendments.

The independent Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) was created in 1972 to investigate accusations of judicial misconduct.

“It’s a separate branch of government and because the practice of law is governed by the judiciary, the courts control the disciplining of members of the court or members of the bar if there are violations,” Rich said. “They can be violations of procedure. They can be disrespecting a client or defendant or plaintiff or misconduct.”

While the JQC is a little dysfunctional as it is, Rich questioned if an independent commission should be replaced with legislative involvement.

“It’s not say that that there aren’t problems with how the system is being operated but the real essence of this amendment is whether you want to replace a truly independent commission — the current commission has its members appointed by the court and the governor — or do you want to have the legislature basically saying, this is how we want to do something, and have the legislature totally in control of it?” Rich said. “… If this were passed, we have no idea what processes the legislature would impose. We have no idea how many members they would put on it. We have no idea what requirements they would impose as far as membership on the commission.”

The amendment could create a violation of the separation of powers, will likely be challenged and the issues could become worse if legislators get involved, Rich said.

“We’re not dealing with white snow,” he said. “The trucks with chains have been running all over the system and there’s some unhappiness with how the current commission is exercising its power."

Fireworks tax

As for the proposed fireworks tax, it’s an excise tax that will be paid by people who buy those products, alleviates funds in the budget that would have supported the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission and the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council and puts designated tax money into those agencies.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Rich said but questioned why the issue wasn’t handled with a statute instead of a constitutional amendment. “… Philosophically, you either like the idea or you don’t.”

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