By Dave Williams
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA - While high-profile races in Georgia remained uncertain on the morning after Election Day, voters have overwhelmingly approved two constitutional amendments and one statute on this year’s statewide ballot.
A constitutional change requiring that state fees and taxes collected for a specific purpose are spent as intended passed with 81.4% of the vote.
A second constitutional amendment prohibiting the state and local governments from using the legal doctrine of “sovereign immunity” to avoid citizen lawsuits won approval from 74.3% of the voters.
Georgia voters also authorized a tax exemption for property owned by charitable organizations for the purpose of building or repairing single-family homes. House Bill 344 was endorsed with 73% of the vote.
The General Assembly put Amendment 1 on the ballot in honor of the late state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, a longtime leader of the effort to ensure that fees collected for Georgia’s Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste Trust funds are spent cleaning up hazardous waste sites and tire dumps.
Georgia governors and legislatures have a history of redirecting the revenue those dedicated fees collect into the general fund during tight economic times.
The sovereign immunity amendment stems from a 2014 Georgia Supreme Court decision that essentially granted the state blanket immunity from citizen lawsuits in a case brought by the Center for a Sustainable Coast. The group had filed suit alleging the state Department of Natural Resources was illegally allowing alterations to private property in fragile coastal wetland areas protected by state law.
To discourage the filing of frivolous lawsuits, the amendment prohibits plaintiffs from recovering monetary damages or attorney fees.
Supporters pushed House Bill 244 as a way to help grow the stock of affordable housing in Georgia, particularly in small cities and rural communities.