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Monday, February 13, 2012 - 11:31am

Constitutional Amendments Often Pass

State lawmakers could vote again as early as this week on a much-debated bill that would allow Georgians to vote on the state approving charter schools. Georgia voters have approved many constitutional amendments in recent years.

The bill’s mostly Republican backers say passing the constitutional amendment would give parents more educational choices.

But opponents such as the Georgia School Boards Association say the move would strip local schools of control.

Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor, says many voters view constitutional amendments more narrowly.

“They usually pass unless somewhere within it you can find the word ‘tax’," Bullock said. "And if voters see the word ‘tax’, then they react negatively. So this one, I suspect, will not say anything about there being tax so my guess is, this will probably pass.”

Tom Crawford who edits the online political publication, The Georgia Report, says many constitutional amendments passed in recent years pertain to fairly minor issues.

“Some of them really are not that significant. They’re really more what you would call lawyer bills because they fix a minor tweak in the state law. Some of them have more symbolic value, like in 2004 there was a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage and that passed by an overwhelming majority.”

The measure would override a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that banned the state’s charter school commission.

If the bill passes on its second vote in the House, it then heads to the Senate. It goes on the November ballot if both chambers pass it by two-thirds’ majority.

The controversial resolution narrowly failed to pass the House last week, with a vote of 110 to 62. The resolution requires a two-thirds, rather than a simple majority.

Speaking on the floor of the house during the debate, one opponent, Rep. Al Williams, a Midway Democrat, questioned the Republican sponsors' aims because they typically favor smaller state government.

“You cannot talk about streamlining government and continuously add another layer of government whenever things don’t go your way! The Supreme Court is not bound by our wishes!” he said.

Other Democrats say the state should fully fund public schools before thinking about creating charter schools. In recent state budgets, public schools have lost $1 billion in finding.

But supporters such as President Pro-Tem Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, say the state has a role to play in local schools.

Jones, one of the bill's sponsors, said during the debate that most people agree that local school boards play a vital role.

“I also think most people agree that local school boards do not have exclusive control, exclusive funding and exclusive policy-making over public education,” she said.

Seven Democrats crossed party lines to vote with Republicans for the measure. Nine Republicans did the same, voting against the bill.