Voters taking part in the Nov. 6 general election – or during the three weeks of early voting opportunities that begin Monday – will find seven or more yes-no questions on their ballots.
Of course the candidates, including those in the governor’s race and contests for other statewide offices, the 12th District congressional race and some contested county commission seats, hold the greatest interest for many voters.
In Bulloch County, the state and county ballot also includes a countywide referendum for a five-year extension of the existing Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, expected to raise $62 million for projects of the county and the four towns. Statesboro, meanwhile, has a “Brunch Bill” referendum, on a separate city ballot, to move the start time that alcoholic drinks can be served in restaurants on Sundays up from 12:30 p.m. to 11 a.m.
But the statewide ballot presents five proposed amendments to the Georgia Constitution and two statewide referendums. Some could have statewide impact, but two of the questions would have no direct effect in Bulloch and neighboring counties.
Amendment 1 is one of those which would apply statewide. A “yes” vote would allow the creation of a Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust. Up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected at sporting goods stores would go into this fund for land, forest and wildlife habitat conservation, protection of rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water sources and for state and local parks. It would not increase the state sales tax rate, but would redirect a portion of the revenue.
Amendment 2 would allow the creation of a statewide business court and also authorize superior courts, which exist at the county and multi-county circuit level, to create business court divisions.
Amendment 3 would create a “forest land conservation use” property tax classification and let the state Department of Revenue hold back up to 5 percent of the money from a grant program for forest land conservation to cover administrative costs. This interpretation was assisted by a reading of the full amendment and by summaries at Ballotpedia.org and other online sources.
But the summary on the ballot itself contains hard to decipher wording such as “subclassification for tax purposes of and the prescribed methodology for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants.”
Amendment 4 would require courts to notify crime victims of court proceedings involving an alleged perpetrator and of his or her release or escape at any stage. A passage of the full amendment states that “victims shall be accorded the utmost dignity and respect and shall be treated fairly by the criminal justice system of this state and all agencies and departments that serve such system.”
This is Georgia’s entry in a national “Marsy’s law” movement named for a 1983 California murder victim whose family was not informed of her accused killer’s release on bail. Some critics have said that existing Georgia laws, particularly the state’s 1995 Crime Victims Bill of Rights, provide sufficiently for victims’ rights and notification and that amending the Constitution is superfluous.
Amendment 5 would allow a sales tax for education purposes to be divided between a county school district and an independent school district in the same county either on the basis of each district’s share of students or by a formal agreement.
It would have no effect in Bulloch and most other Georgia counties, which have only one school district. But it would apply in counties that contain an independent city school district as well as the county district, such as Vidalia and Toombs County, Dublin and Laurens County and Atlanta and Fulton County.
Statewide Referendum A would have even more limited scope, applying only in a city that is “located in more than one county,” levies a sales tax for a metro public transportation system and “has within its boundaries an independent school system.” That means simply the city of Atlanta, according to reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
If approved by a majority of voters statewide, the referendum would create a new, variable property tax homestead exemption in Atlanta, capping the amount that a homeowner’s tax can increase from property valuations to 2.6 percent a year.
Statewide Referendum B would allow a property tax exemption for homes for the mentally disabled that are operated by nonprofits but “include business corporations in the ownership structure for financing purposes.”
Complete copies of the amendments and summaries of the referendums can be found through the secretary of state’s elections website http://sos.ga.gov/index.php/elections. “Proposed Constitutional Amendments” as the last item under “Quick Links.”
Early voting: 16 days
Beginning Monday, in-person early voting will be available statewide for 16 days, including 15 weekdays and one Saturday.
In Bulloch County, the one location available for early voting the entire three weeks, Oct. 15-Nov. 2, will be the Elections and Registration office area at the county annex, 113 North Main Street, Statesboro. But two other locations will open for fewer days.
Besides being open for advanced voting 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, the annex will be the only location for Saturday voting, Oct. 27, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
However, the Honey Bowen Building, 1 Max Lockwood Drive at the Fair Road Park, will open for voting for five weekdays, Oct. 29-Nov. 2, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Additionally, a location on the Georgia Southern University campus, Room 1042 of the Russell Union, 85 Georgia Ave., will be open for early voting for three days, Oct. 23, 24 and 25, also 8 a.m.-5 p.m.