Why I’m Voting NO on All Four Constitutional Amendments Today

Dear friends,

Georgia politicians would like to do several things that are forbidden by the state constitution, so the legislature has placed four proposed amendments on the ballot for today’s election. I am voting NO on all four, and here are the reasons why:

1. Authorizes state to create “Opportunity School Districts”
a) State already has power to create special schools in poorly-performing school districts (Article 8, Section 5, Paragraph 7), but must get consent from voters before taking on debt or collecting new taxes.
b) What Amendment 1 does is give state access to all local tax dollars, regardless of consent of voters.
c) The metrics used to decide if a school will be taken over are unclear and dependent on compliance with federal programs, rather than actual achievement and quality of instruction. Many “failing” schools are dealing with socioeconomic challenges that the state will not be able to solve either.

2. Authorizes new tax of $5,000 or 1% of revenue (whichever is greater) on strip clubs, and new $2,500 fine on criminal offenses related to prostitution and trafficking.
a) Business-specific taxes are a problematic precedent regardless of what business is being targeted. (This could easily be expanded beyond strip clubs.)
b) Holding strip clubs responsible for child sex trafficking (vs. hotels/Disney/etc.) is particularly unfair, given how strictly they are already observed and regulated – punish any criminal activity, certainly, but don’t punish those who are complying with all the rules that already exist.
c) We already collect a Victim Impact Fee ($26 or 11%, whichever is greater) and Victim Assistance (5%) through surcharges on every criminal fine in the state. There has been zero accounting of where this money is going, and why it’s not adequate to handle the victims’ assistance being proposed in Amendment 2. The new fine would be prosecutorial leverage over vulnerable sex workers, not just evil traffickers.

3. Abolishes the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the entity responsible for policing bad judges.
a) JQC was created by constitutional amendment in 1972 because it is so difficult to hold judges accountable at the ballot box (it requires a lawyer running against the person hearing their cases), and a badly behaving judge has so much power over people’s lives. It has disciplined judges for demanding sexual favors from lawyers appearing before them, lying about whether they’ve received a defendant’s request for bond, denying jury trial rights, and more.
b) Many of the judges who have been disciplined have significant political power. One was actually elected to the legislature and sponsored this bill. They would like to see less accountability for judges accused of wrongdoing, and see a legislature-controlled JQC as a better option for that.
c) The proposal would remove all JQC appointments from the State Bar and give them to the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House (who recently settled his own violations of Bar rules).
4. Creates a dedicated fund for fireworks taxes.
a) While this is not a tax increase, it paves the way for future tax increases on the industry. This is why it is supported by lobbyists for the big two fireworks company, because they believe it will help drive out smaller competitors. Fireworks sales have only been legal for a year in Georgia, and the special interests move fast!
b) Permanently carving out money from the general fund is a reward for those special interests, and this would create another opportunity for the governor to bestow financial and political favors – the ‘public safety, fire services, and trauma care fund.’ If there’s one thing we’ve learned from politics, it’s that noble-sounding names can cloak a lot of waste and corruption.

For more material on these amendments, please check out www.bernardlawoffices.com.

Does it seem odd that the most important decisions on your ballot are all the way at the end? We’ll have new candidates in the next election cycle, but the constitutional amendments and new taxes are permanent. And why haven’t our legislators at least given us a heads up about these amendments sometime during this year? It’s so much more productive and rational to talk about policy issues than have endless arguments over which grievously flawed national candidate is worse than another.

Warm regards,
Catherine Bernard

ps. DeKalb voters, I’m voting YES on extending the property tax freeze. If I were in Fulton County, I’d be voting NO on the new taxes.

pps. Good news on the MARTA development issue from my last email! Thank you to all who showed up at the Brookhaven City Council meeting on October 25th. The council agreed that the current proposal doesn’t adequately address infrastructure issues, and deferred approval for MARTA’s requested zoning changes for 90 days. Check out WeAreBrookhaven.com for updates and to stay involved in this regionally important development project.