Dedicated fees, sovereign immunity amendments get voters’ OK

    Georgia voters passed a constitutional amendment to direct special fees like the $1 charged on tires for environmental cleanups to be used as advertised and not diverted to general spending. Tammy Bates/Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

    Georgia voters approved two constitutional amendments Tuesday, one directing state lawmakers to use money collected for a specific purpose to spend it as originally intended and another giving residents more power to sue state and local governments.

    The two ballot questions passed with at least 75% of the votes, with about 200,000 left to be counted as of Wednesday afternoon.   

    The so-called anti bait-and-switch legislation will signal to state lawmakers that Georgians want fees the state collects for hazardous and solid waste trust funds to be actually spent on those things. When you buy a new tire in Georgia the seller tacks on a $1 fee that’s supposed to be used to clean up dumped piles of tires, but now lawmakers often divert the money for general spending.

    The amendment received the backing of environmental organizations, the association representing Georgia’s 159 county governments and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers.

    Georgia legislators still need to pass legislation next year to make the fee dedication a state law. 

    Georgia voters also overwhelmingly supported an amendment to remove sovereign immunity protection from state and local governments,  which opens up state courts to people who want to challenge the constitutionality of state and local laws.

    The ballot question had bipartisan support from legislators who want to let Georgians ask state court judges to decide if governments exceed their authority.

    Voters also approved a referendum that grants nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity exemption from property taxes when building or repairing single-family houses.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.