Forum held to give insight on upcoming amendments

Published 8:15 pm Tuesday, October 25, 2016


The Civics 101 club held a public forum Monday evening to discuss the four proposed amendments that will appear on the November ballot. The panel included Cecilia Willis, the clerk of the superior court, Tim Cochran, the superintendent of Decatur County Schools, and Paul Fryer, a local attorney.

Willis was tasked with discussing Amendment 3, dealing with changes to the judicial qualifications committee. As previously reported in The Post-Searchlight:

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“Voting yes for amendment three would abolish the current Judicial Qualifications Commission, which has conducted investigations and hearings in response to complaints on ethical misconduct by Georgia judges since 1972.

“The amendment would change appointment powers, currently held by the State Bar of Georgia, and give them to the speaker of the house, the governor and the lieutenant governor.

“The new commission would have the authority to discipline, remove and cause the ‘involuntary retirement of judges,’ the legislation states.”

Willis encouraged voters to vote no on November 8, while also acknowledging that in its current form the judicial qualifications committee is in need of changes.

“I think it has faltered under leadership, but if you start making changes to your constitution you’re stuck with it,” Willis said. “This amendment also puts into play politics. The board becomes much more political in its make up as to how the complaints are handled, whether or not they’re going to be aired in public.”

Cochran discussed Amendment 1, which would allow for the creation for an Opportunity School District. As previously reported in The Post-Searchlight:

“If passed, this amendment would allow the state to take over and manage struggling school systems and any funds allocated to them, creating an ‘opportunity school district’.

“These schools would be appointed a new superintendent by Gov. Nathan Deal, who would have control over their budgets and the authority to hire and fire teachers and principals.

“The creation of an OSD has three different models: the state governs with the local school board; the state directly manages the school system; or a charter school is formed.

“The OSD would be allowed to take control of up to 20 schools per year that are deemed to be “failing” and up to a maximum total of 100 schools.”

Cochran and many education leaders in the state, including both teachers’ unions, have voiced their opposition to the amendment.

They have also begun to see backlash from the office of Governor Nathan Deal in response to this opposition.

“This amendment is pretty misleading based on what you read on the ballot,” Cochran said. “If you vote yes, you will give the governor the authority to take over failing schools. If he takes over a failing school…he’s in control of that school. He can name your superintendent, he can name all your teachers, he has control of you facilities, he has control of your local taxes. Your board of education has zero control over failing schools.”

Fryer provided information on Amendments 2 and 4. As previously reported in The Post-Searchlight a “yes” vote for Amendment 2:

“Would create the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund, which would provide help for children who are victims of sexual crimes in Georgia.

“Additional penalties of up to $2,500 on convicted sexual criminals and a new $5,000 annual tax on adult entertainment businesses in the state will go toward agencies, rehabilitative services and faith-based organizations that help child victims of sexual abuse.”

And a “yes” vote for amendment 4 will trigger a new tax on fireworks:

“Tax revenue from the sale of fireworks will go toward trauma care, fire services and local public safety services in Georgia.

“Senate Bill 350 states that 55 percent of the tax would be provided to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, 40 percent provided to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council to be used exclusively for improving equipment and training of firefighters and 5 percent provided to the local governments for public safety purposes.”

Fryer and Willis voiced their opposition to Amendment 2, because of questions about where the money will go.

The amendment allows for “additional penalties” for a set of offenses, but the amount of that penalty and the amount of the assessment on adult entertainment establishments can be changed by the legislator at any time if the amendment is passed.

The same goes for Amendment 4, where the amendment requires that excise tax revenue from fireworks must be used for trauma care and public safety, but leaves the legislator the ability to change the law on how much the tax will be and the exact recipients of the money.

All three panelists recommended that voters take a closer look at the amendments and the reasons behind them.

The meeting was attended by 27 concerned citizens. Billy Ward, who helped organize the events for Civics 101, said that they were happy to help inform those that attended and prepare them to vote.

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