The right to vote is a special privilege that half the world does not enjoy. More than 1.5 million veterans laid down their lives so that you can vote. I hope each and every one of you will honor their sacrifice by going to the polls.
As early voting starts next week, I have been getting a lot of questions about the five Amendments that will be on the ballot. Bills that change the Constitution of Georgia must be supported by a very high threshold of two thirds of the vote in the General Assembly as well as a majority of the population before they can be implemented. All five of these Amendments were sponsored by Republicans, and the Georgia Chamber endorsed the first three. I will try to summarize them.
Amendment 1 creates an Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to protect water quality, wildlife and parks. Up to 80 percent of the sales tax on sporting goods - up to $20 million - will be used to protect the environment. As an added bonus, some of this money will protect our military bases from encroachment. It received almost unanimous support.
Amendment 2 creates a state-wide “Business Court” to handle complex litigation of certain big businesses. Twenty-three states have similar courts, and Georgia has had a pilot program over the last few years in Atlanta and Gwinnett County which have been successful. The goal is to streamline these difficult cases into more fair and efficient handling. This bill narrowly passed the two thirds threshold, with many Democrats in opposition.
Amendment 3 involves the Forest Land Protection Act which encourages timberland by giving taxpayers an incentive to grow trees. The bill increases the amount of land that can be exempted in the FPLA, and creates a more uniform way to calculate the amount that local governments will be compensated. Most counties (but not all) will receive more money if this amendment is passed. It received near unanimous support.
Amendment 4 is more commonly known as “Marsy’s Law”. Thirty-six states have already passed this law, which gives certain protections to crime victims, including being informed when the accused is being released from prison and granting victims the right to speak at court hearings. It received near unanimous support.
Amendment 5 tries to fix an issue with the local education penny tax (E-SPLOST) in counties where there is also a city school district in that county. It would allow for an E-SPLOST to be called by that county (if the county has a majority of the students) with or without the city district’s agreement. It would then require that the money be divided between the city and the county on a per student basis. This bill passed narrowly with about an equal amount of Republicans and Democrats opposed.
I believe that Georgia is run very well. But regardless of your views, I hope you will exercise your right to tell your elected officials what you think. The way that civilized people do that is to vote.
Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.