Amendments 3 and 4: Judges and Fireworks

Amendments 3 and 4: Judges and Fireworks

While the first two of four proposed amendments to the Georgia Constitution on the Nov. 8 ballot address high-profile problems concerning children — failing schools and sex trafficking — the final two are more obscure.

Amendment 3 would overhaul the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, which has the power to discipline, remove and cause the retirement of elected judges.

The current independent commission, created by a 1972 constitutional amendment, consists of two judges picked by the state Supreme Court, three 10-year members of the State Bar of Georgia elected by the bar’s board of governors, and two nonlawyers picked by the governor. Since 2007, more than 60 judges have been forced out by the commission for various transgressions.

State Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and sponsored the legislation behind the amendment, has argued that the commission has lost credibility by using its power too aggressively.

But Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has criticized the rush to change the commission without investigating any alleged improprieties.

A group formed to oppose Amendment 3, Georgians for Judicial Integrity, argues that the commission would lose its independence because the General Assembly would legislate the makeup and governance of the panel. “It introduces politics in a sphere where politics shouldn’t govern.”

Amendment 4 is connected to last year’s legalization of the sale of fireworks in Georgia.

It specifies that the excise taxes collected when fireworks are sold should be dedicated to trauma care, firefighter equipment and training, and other public safety uses. A constitutional amendment is required to tie any revenue source to specific purposes.

The General Assembly gets to determine the specific distribution of the tax revenues among those uses. The law initially sets the breakdown as 55 percent for the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, 40 percent for the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council to pay for grants for equipment and training, and 5 percent for local governments to spend on public safety.

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