By John Schaffner
johnschaffner@reporternewspapers.net

As the Nov. 2 election approaches, we have had more than one recent call asking if we can explain the various constitutional amendments and ballot questions on which we’ll be voting.

With the help of e-mails from members of the Georgia Legislature and speeches by experts on specific issues, we have tried to briefly explain each of those ballot items.

Amendment 1: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to make Georgia more economically competitive by authorizing legislation to uphold reasonable competitive agreements?” HR 178

This proposed amendment deals with non-competition agreements, contracts through which employers can hire employees on the condition that the employees, once they leave the jobs, will not engage in activities that compete with the employers.

Non-competition agreements now are strictly limited as to the time period, geographic area and prohibited activities. If a court finds a non-competition agreement to be unreasonable with respect to one of these factors, the court will strike it down and treat the employment contract as though the non-competition provision is not there.

Amendment 1 would change that, enabling Georgia courts to enforce non-competition agreements by adding reasonable limitations on the time period, geographic area, or prohibited activities.

Supporters of Amendment 1 contend that the amendment will make Georgia more economically competitive as compared to other states. Some businesses, such as computer technology and biotechnology firms, prefer to locate in states where the court system is likely to enforce their non-competition agreements.

Opponents argue the amendment enables courts to change the provisions of a contract, adding limitations that the parties did not see fit to include in the first place.

Amendment 2: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to impose an annual $10 trauma charge on certain passenger motor vehicles in this state for the purposes of funding trauma care?” SR 277

If passed by voters, an extra $10 charge would be assessed on vehicles when license tags are renewed each year. That $10 fee would be used to fund the state’s trauma system. Grady Hospital would receive some of the funds. Part of the funds would to go providing trauma centers in areas of Georgia where there now are no such facilities. Placing this provision in the state Constitution ensures the General Assembly will not be able to spend the funds for any other purposes.

Amendment 3: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to allow the Georgia Department of Transportation to enter into multi-year construction agreements without requiring appropriations in the current fiscal year for the total amount of payments that would be due under the entire agreement so as to reduce long-term construction costs paid by the state?” SR 821

This would allow the Georgia Department of Transportation to pay for multi-year construction contracts one year at a time, rather than having to appropriate the total dollar value of such a contract entirely in the first year. A contract of this nature would not be allowed to last longer than 10 years.The amendment would enable Georgia DOT to work on more projects at any given time by spreading the total costs of the projects over the years of construction.

Amendment 4: “Shall the Constitution be amended so as to provide for guaranteed cost savings for the state by authorizing a state entity to enter into multi-year contracts which obligate state funds for energy efficiency and conservation improvement projects?” SR 1231

This amendment is similar to Amendment 3, except that Amendment 4 deals with multi-year contracts for energy efficiency and conservation improvement projects, such as retrofitting the lighting, plumbing, HVAC, and windows in a state building. Multi-year contracts could be funded on a pay-as-you-go annual basis for up to 10 years, allowing more projects to be completed.

Amendment 5: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to allow the owners of real property located in industrial areas to remove the property from the industrial area?” HR 136

This amendment centers on a local issue in Garden City, a community near Savannah. It has no impact on metro Atlanta counties or properties. There is a property in an industrial zone in Garden City that the owners want to remove from that zone, but they cannot do so without a constitutional amendment.

Statewide Referendum A: “Shall the Act be approved which grants an exemption from state ad valorem taxation for inventory of a business?” HB 482

This referendum will exempt business inventory from property taxes. Under Georgia law, businesses are taxed on an annual basis for the inventory they have sitting on their shelves, whether in a warehouse or in a retail store. Proponents of the referendum say this tax makes it difficult for Georgia to compete to attract jobs compared with other states that don’t have an inventory tax and that the tax also is a disincentive for companies to boost the economy by acquiring more inventory