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Fuzzy wording confounds some on amendments

COVINGTON -- There are five constitutional amendments and one proposed statewide referendum on the Nov. 2 General Election ballot. But voters may have a hard time deciding whether to say yay or nay, given that the wording of the questions can be confusing.

"Sometimes it's difficult at first glance to determine what the actual amendment means," said Tracey-Ann Nelson, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.

Nelson urges voters not to just pick yes or no without fully understanding the consequences.

"It's important to understand as a voter that constitutional amendments are really hard to change once they are implemented," she said. "We need to be cognizant of what it means in the long term."

According to Nelson, Amendment No. 1 is a good example of a question that has been "crafted for the ballot."

It reads: "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to make Georgia more economically competitive by authorizing legislation to uphold reasonable competitive agreements?"

It's a leading question that gives voters no real explanation as to its meaning, Nelson said. What it means is that companies would be able to write tighter no-compete contracts and have more options to protect trade secrets and competitive information.

The current constitution prohibits enforcement of no-compete covenants unless they have reasonable limits on time, territory and activity. This would broaden those provisions. This could affect job access to individuals in a competitive industries both inside and outside the state.

Amendment No. 2 asks, "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 purpose of funding trauma care?"

If approved, an additional $10 would be tacked on to tag fees to fund a statewide trauma network that would include ambulances, 911 call centers, emergency medical technicians, nurses and doctors. The Georgia Trauma Commission would monitor and dispense funds, which could not be commingled with the state treasury. The measure is expected to raise about $82 million.

On the downside, metropolitan areas with the majority of the population would be funding facilities located outside metro areas, where they are most lacking. Decisions would be made by an appointed commission with no accountability to voters.

Amendment No. 3 asks, "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended 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?"

This would allow the DOT to start multi-year projects and obligate funds from future revenues. Currently, the entire cost of a project must be on hand when a contract is awarded. The amendment would allow for cancellation of any contract due to insufficiency of funds.

Amendment No. 4 is somewhat similar, asking, "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 or conservation improvement projects?"

This would allow the state to execute multi-year contracts for projects to improve energy efficiency and conservation. Contracts would be limited to 25 years. Vendors offering the contracts must place funds into escrow accounts to be drafted if the expected savings do not materialize.

Amendment No. 5 asks, "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to allow the owners of real property located in industrial areas to remove property from the industrial area?"

This would apply only to Chatham and Jeff Davis counties. It follows an amendment ratified in 1996 that allowed property owners to remove the industrial classification only if the property was located on an island. The proposed amendment would extend the same rights to owners of mainland properties.

The proposed statewide referendum asks, "Shall the Act be approved which grants an exemption from state ad valorem taxation for inventory of a business?"

This would allow inventory of businesses to be exempt from state property tax, constituting a tax cut for businesses.

The League of Women Voters provides explanations and pros and cons for each issue on its Web site, www.lwv.org. Information from the Web site is used throughout this article with the permission of the organization.