Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Voting Guide for November 2016, The Amendments

PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

I'm going to have to do some jumping around here, but I'll make up for summarizing at the end. Items #1 and #3 are each standalone, but each of them has a bunch of story that is not being told on the ballot that has to be shared. #2 and #4 each seem to follow a pattern that I want to explore, to make sure that I can vote with principle and consistency, so that I can decide not just the question of whether this particular proposal is good, but whether this type of proposal is sound.


School Intervention
- 1 - Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement. Senate Resolution No. 287 Act No. 309 Ga. L. 2015, p. 1498 "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?" NO 

On the primary ballots, both the Republicans and Democrats had questions on how to address failing schools. The Republican proposal would have given parents a "let me get my kid out of this failing school" card; The Democrat proposal would have given the state power to step in locally.

Now this particular amendment being offered for the whole state is getting opposition from across party lines across the state. Both my local PTO and school board have come out against it. The wording on the ballot doesn't describe the full changes that would be implemented. If a school is deemed as failing, then all funds and control of that school are completely taken away from locally elected school boards, and given to a board that is appointed by the governor with no voter accountability. The ballot talks about "increasing community involvement", but there is nothing community about this. A resounding No on this one.

Judicial Watchdogs
- 3 - Reforms and re-establishes the Judicial Qualifications Commission and provides for its composition, governance, and powers. House Resolution No. 1113 Act No. 537 Ga. L. 2016, p. 896 "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to abolish the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission; require the General Assembly to create and provide by general law for the composition, manner of appointment, and governance of a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, with such commission having the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges; require the Judicial Qualifications Commission to have procedures that provide for due process of law and review by the Supreme Court of its advisory opinions; and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?" NO

Here's the back-story: http://www.11alive.com/news/local/investigations/disgraced-former-ga-judge-behind-push-to-abolish-judicial-watchdog-group-1/303205441

The state's current judicial watchdog agency is independent. Agencies that jail or punish powerful people have to be independent of those powerful people in order to do their job, or else the whole idea of accountability is a joke. This watchdog agency found some bad stuff on a particular judge, and he stepped down under charges of sexual misconduct, using his authority to molest women. Then this judge became a legislator, and now he wants to get rid of the agency that disgraced him, and create a new agency that would be under the thumb of the legislature.

No. Big no.

Taxes, fees, allocations

- 2 - Authorizes penalties for sexual exploitation and assessments on adult entertainment to fund child victims' services. Senate Resolution No. 7 Act No. 306 Ga. L. 2015, p. 1497 "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow additional penalties for criminal cases in which a person is adjudged guilty of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, pandering, pandering by compulsion, solicitation of sodomy, masturbation for hire, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, or sexual exploitation of children and to allow assessments on adult entertainment establishments to fund the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative and social services for individuals in this state who have been or may be sexually exploited?"

- 4 - Dedicates revenue from existing taxes on fireworks to trauma care, fire services, and public safety. Senate Resolution No. 558 Act No. 530 Ga. L. 2016, p. 895 "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the proceeds of excise taxes on the sale of fireworks or consumer fireworks be dedicated to the funding of trauma care, firefighter equipping and training, and local public safety purposes?"

Here is the pattern I see with these amendments, and many like them, year after year:
"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow (new/existing) (taxes/permit fees/civil penalties) associated with (an activity which may be lawful or unlawful) to go into a fund for (a Noble Cause)."

Let's not waste time whether the Noble Cause is Noble enough. We all know that just because the cause is Noble, doesn't mean that the particular suggestion on how to serve the Cause is a good idea.

Here are my questions: Is associating the money for these causes with these taxes, permit fees, and civil penalties a good idea? Why is this a ballot initiative, does the legislature not have the power to levy these fees or spend this money already?

Diving in to get some more information:

  • WABE article summarizing all amendments, with links to related legislation
  • Senate Resolution 7 - For Amendment 2
    • I read this resolution, and I see that it has built-in exemptions from:
      • Article III, Section IX, 22 Paragraph IV(c) - Now this is interesting. This is the clause of the Constitution that deals with funds left over after a fiscal year. So, if the fiscal year is over, and the money in this fund isn't spent, the fund doesn't lose the money.
      • Article III, Section V, Paragraph II, - "All bills for raising revenue, or appropriating money, shall originate in the House of Representatives."
      • Article VII, Section III, Paragraph II(a),  - "Except as otherwise provided in this Constitution, all revenue collected from taxes, fees, and assessments for state purposes, as authorized by revenue measures enacted by the General Assembly, shall be paid into the general fund of the state treasury."
      • Article VII, Section III, Paragraph IV. - "The General Assembly shall not increase the maximum marginal rate of the state income tax above that in effect on January 1, 2015."
  • Senate Resolution 558 - For Amendment 4
    • Again, this has an exemption from Article VII Section III Paragraph II, that everything should go into the general fund.
So, the state Constitution says that money legislation should originate in the House (reflecting the US Constitution), but in SR7 the Senate says "we give ourselves a free pass from following that rule in this case." I'm not pleased about that. I'm also not pleased about the other ways in which the legislature is exempting themselves from following the rules on these funds. If the rules are good rules, follow them. If they aren't good rules, change them. I don't like case-specific exemptions.

And, should this money be exempt from the General Fund? Well, on the one hand, it might be argued that these dollars go to the General Fund, they might be used for unrelated purposes. On the other hand, it might be argued that by keeping it out of the General Fund, it might lose some Constitution-mandated controls and become some kind of slush fund.

Back to the basic question of whether this general form of law is sound: When it comes to setting the amount for a civil penalty, I can see setting it high enough to discourage the activity being penalized, and coming up with a specific, non-slush-fund-able purpose for excess money that is collected. But when it comes permits, the cost of the permit should be just enough to cover the cost of the paperwork, and any necessary inspection to verify that rules for public safety are being followed.

With all of this information in mind, I am leaning towards voting NO on both Amendment 2 and Amendment 4, but I would be very happy to hear more discussion.


Bottom Line
Unless I can be persuaded otherwise on #2 and #4, I'm voting NO on all four amendments.

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