Amendment / Referendum Update
The final 24 hour election day stretch is underway as Georgian’s head to the polls to determine the future leadership of our state government. Aside from those seeking elective office, voters will also determine the fate of five constitutional amendments and two statewide referendums. Constitutional amendments will officially change the current state constitution if approved, so it is important for our citizens to be informed! This election cycle, we have a total of five amendment questions on the ballot. Amendment wording can be tricky; to cut down on the confusion and misinformation, we have taken the liberty of explaining each amendment and state referendum below.
Creates the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, and parks.
"Without increasing the current state sales tax rate, shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to conserve lands that protect drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; to protect and conserve forests, fish, wildlife habitats, and state and local parks; and to provide opportunities for our children and families to play and enjoy the outdoors, by dedicating, subject to full public disclosure, up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected by sporting goods stores to such purposes without increasing the current state sales tax rate?”
Amendment one would dedicate 80 percent of sales tax revenue collected by sporting goods stores to be used for the protection and preservation of conservation land. The law passed will be automatically repealed after 10 years, but the legislature is allowed to extend that date of repeal for up to 20 years. Key takeaways: This proposal does not increase sales tax but uses existing sales tax revenue, directing it away from the general fund to a specific purpose, namely the protection and preservation of conservation land to provide grants in support of state parks and trails, local parks and trails, the stewardship of conservation lands, and the limited acquisition of land to support clean, water, wildlife, hunting and fishing, and natural resource-based recreation across Georgia.
Creates a state-wide business court to lower costs, enhance efficiency, and promote predictable judicial outcomes.
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create a state-wide business court, authorize superior court business court divisions, and allow for the appointment process for statewide business court judges in order to lower costs, improve the efficiency of all courts, and promote predictability of judicial outcomes in certain complex business disputes for the benefit of all citizens of this state?”
The second constitutional amendment authorizes the creation of a statewide business court. If approved, this amendment would allow businesses the opportunity to elect a forum to litigate complex disputes before judges who are specifically qualified to handle such issues. The procedures in the statewide business court will be streamlined, intended to lead to quicker resolutions of such disputes. This proposal is meant to improve the judicial environment to incentivize more growth of business in Georgia. Currently, at least 23 states have some type of business court at the city, county, or statewide level.
Encourages the conservation, sustainability, and longevity of Georgia's working forests through tax subclassification and grants.
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to revise provisions related to the subclassification for tax purposes of and the prescribed methodology for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants, to provide that assistance grants related to forest land conservation use property may be increased by general law for a five-year period and that up to 5 percent of assistance grants may be deducted and retained by the state revenue commissioner to provide for certain state administrative costs, and to provide for the subclassification of qualified timberland property for ad valorem purposes?”
The third constitutional amendment will change the way forest land and timber land are classified for ad valorem property tax purposes. It gives the legislature the authority to adopt a new formula to determine the tax liability for owners of these types of property. This legislation seeks to create a uniform evaluation process for timberland for property taxation purposes by giving qualified landowners the opportunity for their land to be assessed as “Qualified Timberland Property” at fair market value as determined by the Department of Revenue rather than 159 different county tax assessors. Proponents of the amendment believe this will lead to better management of forest land and timber land. Opponents have expressed concern on the impact it will have on tax revenue for rural counties with large tracts of forest and timber land.
Provides rights for victims of crime in the judicial process.
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights to victims against whom a crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?”
Amendment 4, better known as Marsy’s Law – seeks to protect the rights of crime victims to receive certain information and to participate in the prosecution of the accused person. Victims and their families are afforded specific rights under Marsy’s Law, including: reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of court proceedings involving the alleged act; reasonable and timely notice upon the release or escape of the accused; inclusion in any scheduled court proceedings; and the opportunity to be heard at any scheduled proceedings involving the release, plea, or sentencing of the accused.
Authorizes fair allocation of sales tax proceeds to county and city school districts.
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize a referendum for a sales and use tax for education by a county school district or an independent school district or districts within the county having a majority of the students enrolled within the county and to provide that the proceeds are distributed on a per student basis among all the school systems unless an agreement is reached among such school systems for a different distribution?”
The fifth constitutional amendment impacts counties that have independent school systems. Typically, in counties with such arrangements there is both a county and a city school system. This constitutional amendment would allocate Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) dollars on a per student basis. Our current system regarding ESPLOST involves negotiation between the independent and county systems. Under the amendment, if the independent school system has more students than the county system then the majority of ESPLOST dollars would go to the independent system.
Proposed Statewide Referenda:
Provides for a homestead exemption for residents of certain municipal corporations.
“Do you approve a new homestead exemption in a municipal corporation that is located in more than one county, that levies a sales tax for the purposes of a metropolitan area system of public transportation, and that has within its boundaries an independent school system, from ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of the difference between the current year assessed value of a home and the adjusted base year value, provided that the lowest base year value will be adjusted yearly by 2.6 percent?”
while voted on by all Georgians, is written where it currently only would impact the City of Atlanta. It would impose a property tax cap on the City of Atlanta.
Provides a tax exemption for certain homes for the mentally disabled.
“Shall the Act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes on nonprofit homes for the mentally disabled if they include business corporations in the ownership structure for financing purposes?”
expands a property tax exemption on homes for the mentally disabled which will make it easier for such homes to be financed and constructed.
We hope these explanations have assisted you in muddling through the language and further gives you an idea about these proposed amendments. Every vote counts as we vote to determine the future of our state constitution. We highly encourage you to research each amendment, reach your own conclusion and vote your conscience on November 6.