2018 Midterm Election: Georgia Voting Guide

Ballot TextGuide

Text of Bill
Chetan’s Vote: Yes
The amendment seeks to create a dedicated government funding source for land and water conservation in Georgia without raising taxes.  80% of the revenue gained from the sales tax on buying sporting goods will go towards improving state parks and preserving clean water, forests and wildlife. 

“Revenue from the purchase of equipment such as sleeping bags, tents, fishing rods, kayaks — even guns in some cases — would go toward preserving Georgia wildlife….The proposed constitutional amendment has the support of a number of conservation groups, including the Georgia Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Georgia Wildlife Federation, The Conservation Fund and Park Pride.”
Marietta Daily Journal, “ ‘Outdoor Stewardship’ Act would set aside millions for land conservation” 

“Having a dedicated source of funding provides the state with the opportunity to do more planning around successfully pursuing conservation objectives, whether that be in priority land acquisition or in the stewardship of existing state lands”
Georgia Trends, “Funding the Future” 

Text of Bill
Chetan’s Vote: No
This amendment would create a new statewide judicial court system that focuses only on business cases. The judges that are serve on these courts are appointed by the Governor and will serve 5 year terms.

“Imagine a courtroom that only handles business issues — things like contract disputes, copyright disagreements and arguments over who came up with a money-making idea. The “Business Court Amendment” would set up a court to handle just those cases. It’s not a new idea, though. Fulton and Gwinnett counties already use business courts, and this constitutional amendment would extend the practice statewide. Supporters believe focusing on just business will help judges move faster and be more informed. Opponents wonder if the judges will be fair since the governor would appoint them.”
11Alive, “What’s this whole ‘business court amendment’ about on the Georgia ballot?”

“Much like other specialty courts that only deal with drugs or mental health, these courts typically hear cases related to business disputes, many of which are complex cases. Supporters credit business courts for handling time-consuming corporate lawsuits that can otherwise languish on the docket for years and clog the courts…But critics say the courts can create an unfair, two-tiered system—one for businesses and one for everyone else—and some consider them an affront to the judges who ordinarily would hear such cases. [In Texas] trial lawyers and defense attorneys objected to putting special courts in the hands of a small group of appointed judges and giving special treatment to companies…It amounts to “special courts for special people,” said Bryan Blevins Jr., president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, which fought a legislative proposal this year to create a business court in the state.
Pew, Business Courts Take on Complex Corporate Conflicts

Additional Resources: Judicial Studies Institute Journal

Text of Bill 
Chetan’s Vote: Yes
This amendment would change the formula for calculating the value of forest lands for tax purposes. It would also create a new land use tax category for commercial timberland and create grant funding opportunities for local government to use toward relevant administrative costs. 

“The amendment has several missions. One is to lower the tax burden on timberland owners…Andres Villegas, the president and CEO of the Georgia Forestry Association, said a University of Georgia study shows that the state’s working forest is taxed three times higher than in neighboring states, with 4.7 million acres taxed at rates about six times higher. “That puts those 4.7 million acres at risk of being converted to strip malls and neighborhoods,” Villegas said. “When you make that conversion, it’s permanent, and you permanently lose the air, the water, the wildlife benefits that come from the forest, as well as the ability to produce timber for the $35 billion industry that’s converting it to things we use every day.”
Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Ballot initiatives for Georgia’s Nov. 6 election”

Additional Resources: 
Definition of an Ad valorem tax

GA Forestry Association – Governor Deal Signs Critical Timber Tax Reform Legislation  

Text of Bill
Chetan’s Vote: No
This amendment, popularly known as Marsy’s Law, seeks to make the rights of an accused defendant and a crime victim equal. Though the amendment sounds appealing as a way to support victims of crimes, the amendment bundles beneficial victims’ rights — like the rights of a victim to know the status of a defendant’s case and whether or not he’s been released from custody — with potentially harmful rights, like allowing victims to dodge discovery requests and withholding potentially exculpatory evidence by refusing to be interviewed or deposed (benefits historically granted only to the accused due to their presumption of innocence). Kentucky and Montana’s Supreme Courts recently invalidated their versions of Marsy’s Law, holding that voters shouldn’t have to accept a trade-off between the defendants’ and victims’ rights. 

“Victims’ rights serve a completely different purpose aimed at ensuring recovery for individuals, not protection against state power. Granting victims constitutional rights equal to the accused in criminal proceedings inappropriately undermines due process by creating conflict between victim and defendant rights. It also exacerbates flagrant inequalities in our criminal legal system.

The insensitivity victims experience is not a constitutional failing. Victims deserve dignity and respect. They deserve to be notified and heard at criminal proceedings. And they deserve to be informed regarding the status of their offender. These rights and more already exist in Iowa’s legal code, but it takes money and people to ensure access to them. A victim cannot exercise her right to be heard in court without transportation to the courthouse or if she needs a lawyer or is reluctant to participate without someone to help her understand the process.

Adequate funding for systems and services and better enforcement of our victims’ rights laws can more effectively serve survivors. Instead, Marsy’s Law makes sweeping promises the state cannot keep, claims to fix problems constitutions cannot solve and harms our justice system.”

ACLU Tennessee, “

We’re Victims’ Rights Advocates, and We Opposed Marsy’s Law”

“The rights given to an accused person are constitutionally guaranteed because — even as he stands before a court facing charges — he’s innocent. And his status as an innocent person doesn’t change until certain procedural and evidentiary hurdles are cleared. However, Marsy’s Law doesn’t treat a defendant like he’s legally innocent. Instead, it gives a victim the right to withhold potentially exculpatory evidence by refusing to be interviewed or deposed, which essentially denies the accused what he needs for a fair trial…Not only does Marsy’s Law endanger innocence, it might even backfire and protect the guilty…A prosecutor is constitutionally required to disclose any exculpatory evidence…if a prosecutor is prevented from making those disclosures, any conviction secured against a defendant runs a high risk of being overturned. That means a victim who is exercising her rights under Marsy’s Law may pave the way for a successful appeal for someone who is guilty….Luckily, Marsy’s Law isn’t the only way to protect the rights of all parties when a crime occurs. Thirty states have amended their constitutions with rights for crime victims without making the false equivalence of Marsy’s Law.” 
The Hill, “The rights of victim’s shouldn’t trump due process”

Additional Resources: 
ACLU, ‘Victims’ Rights’ Proposals Like Marsy’s Law Undermine Due Process

Georgia Public Policy Foundation, “Marsy’s Law of Unintended Consequences”

Text of Bill
Chetan’s Vote: Yes
This amendment would allow the largest school district in each county to call for a referendum on a new sales tax. If a majority of voters in the county approved the proposed sales tax, all revenues from the new tax would be given to schools and used for educational purposes. All school districts in the county would receive funding.

“According to Aaron Gould Sheinin of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, in the past, large county school systems have had to ask all other school systems in their county for permission before putting education-based sales taxes on the ballot. The passage of the amendment would allow the largest county school systems to call for a referendum without permission, giving county school systems easier access to potential sources of funding. High-performing city schools monopolize education funding and prevent new, under-performing, and rural schools from receiving the resources they need. This amendment would give county school districts more negotiating power in raising funds.”
Atlanta Journal Constitution

Text of Bill
Chetan’s Vote: No
This proposal would allow residents of certain municipal corporations to cap the taxable value of their primary residences for property tax purposes. The exemption would apply to properties in cities like Atlanta, which are located in more than one county, fund public transportation through sales taxes, and have independent school systems. It would prevent the taxable value of an eligible homeowner’s primary residence from increasing by more than a fixed rate per year.

“Referendum A is bad policy for at least 4 reasons:

1) It will lock in assessed values at pre-recovery levels because the 2015 levels were not adjusted for the recovery. This will be a very large boon to those with large-value homes who have seen a great deal of market value gain. Many owning less expensive homes will, as a result, pay an effective higher tax rate (as millage rates rise) over time.

2) It will limit assessed value growth to an artificially low rate even though many owners have seen very large increases in value. This will shift property tax burden onto other property owners, including landlords who will pass increases on to tenants causing greater increases in rents. (Yes, renters pay property taxes, they just don’t see them billed that way.) This disproportionately hurts lower income households to the benefit mostly of high-income owners of more valuable properties. Homeowners already benefit from effectively lower property tax rates than renters. This will make it worse.

3) It will result in some owners of homes to pay one low effective tax rate, while newer owners pay a much higher effective rate, which is not equitable. This will result in lock-in effects, causing few property sales, and make housing inventory tighter, making the homes that do sell, more expensive. This is what California is experiencing due to Proposition 13. When few sell homes to maintain their low property taxes, home prices become unaffordable for the next generation of homebuyers.

4) It will make it more difficult politically to raise the millage rate because the effects will hit fewer property owners more heavily, and they will have more motivation to work against raising millage rates when needed, which means working against good government.
Low-income homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods do need relief. This is not the way to do it. There are some programs in place to help low-income seniors. Those need to be better deployed. For nonseniors, there needs to be a simple increase in the homestead exemption, which will have a progressive effect.” 

Dan Immergluck, Professor of Urban Studies, Georgia State University

Text of Bill
Chetan’s Vote: Yes
This measure would clarify that nonprofit homes for the mentally disabled would still be eligible for a property tax exemption, even if they receive private loans for construction or renovation.

“In 2010, the state of Georgia agreed to transfer individuals with developmental disabilities from state psychiatric hospitals to community-based homes by June 2018. However, transfers have taken much longer than expected, and many patients have been transferred to extended-stay motels or homeless shelters which do not provide mental health treatment. This measure could improve the quality and availability of homes for the mentally disabled by making it easier for them to finance construction and renovation.” 

About The Author

Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.

Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.

He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.

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