Originally created 10/24/06

Amendments don't raise fuss



ATLANTA - Rights of property owners and hunters will be in question when voters cast their ballots Nov. 7.

After facing a lengthy roll of choices for statewide and local candidates, voters will come to a list of three proposed constitutional amendments and six tax-related questions.

By checking yes or no, voters will have direct say over whether government officials can seize land, known as eminent domain, only for public projects, not private developments. Voters also will have say over whether hunting and fishing should get a permanent protection in the state's constitution and whether the Legislature can continue to designate specialty license plates as fundraising tools for organizations and causes.

While this year's topics might drive some interested outdoorsmen or property owners to the polls, it's a relatively tame election as far as amendment questions go.

"It's not that exciting," University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said about this year's slate. "None of those are stirring up much excitement that I can perceive."

He pointed out the vast difference from 2004's initiative ballot.

Two years ago, a question about whether defining marriage as between a man and a woman was credited for generating high interest among Georgians who oppose gay unions.

THOUGH IT MIGHT BE a low-key year for constitutional changes, that doesn't mean discussion has been quiet among interest groups.

"We've registered a lot of people that normally wouldn't have voted," said James Lakeman, the chairman of Georgians for Outdoor Traditions, a coalition of pro-hunting and fishing groups that formed last year to promote the hunting amendment proposal. "It helps to protect this for generations to come."

The proposal is sponsored by Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, the Senate's president pro tempore. He said he pitched the idea last year because he sees the population growth and political center shifting toward urbanized metro Atlanta and away from rural areas that have always supported fishing and hunting.

"I became aware that there are people who don't understand game management and that hunting is not just the rampant killing of animals," he said. "I saw that a couple of other states are putting hunting and fishing rights into their constitutions."

The main criticism of the proposal is that it is unnecessary - that in a state with 400,000 hunters and 1.1 million anglers, the outdoor activities are far from being targeted.

Mr. Johnson admits there is no current threat to cut down on the activities, but he said he could see the constitutional protection helping in the future as suburban growth and rural hunting areas begin to clash more.

"I do see the potential of somebody coming along and saying we're going to outlaw the hunting of deer in any county with a population of 100,000 or more," he said. "That's the type of thinking that I would be more worried about."

Animal protection groups are not swayed by the argument.

"It's really just a feel-good bill because in the state of Georgia, to the best of my knowledge, there's never been an attempt, much less any law passed, that curtails hunting in any way," said Dino Vlachos, the president of Georgia Animal Rights and Protection.

Mr. Vlachos has tried to suggest nonlethal methods for controlling the deer population, such as reproduction controls, to the state Department of Natural Resources, but he has been unsuccessful. He describes the amendment proposal as a "chest-thumping" appeal to the hunting and fishing crowd.

"It's a waste of taxpayers' dollars," he said. "It's a tremendous waste of legislators' time."

EVEN THE EMINENT DOMAIN issue, which received significant attention last year when the U.S. Supreme Court made an unpopular ruling in favor of seizing land for private development, hasn't created heated debate leading up to the election.

The General Assembly already passed a law this year stating that the tool be used only for public uses and approved through the local government. Though it left a loophole for utility companies needing property to run their lines, the law calmed many people's concerns over the use of eminent domain.

That law is in effect, leading some groups to question why the amendment is needed.

"A very comprehensive law has been passed that detailed ways the public is protected," said Marty Collier a policy analyst for the Georgia State Trade Association of Nonprofit Developers. "The constitutional amendment - our concern there is that would lock in the way that the eminent domain is exercised."

MR. JOHNSON SAID there is a balance in deciding which amendments go to voters because of the permanent nature of the additions if they are approved. He pointed out that of the dozens of bills that came up to add questions to this year's ballots, only three made it.

And any amendment proposal needs bi-partisan support at the Capitol to get the two-thirds majority approval to move forward.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 681-1701 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.

AMENDMENT PROPOSALS


Here are the three constitutional amendment proposals Georgia voters will see on ballots Election Day:



EMINENT DOMAIN: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to prohibit the use of eminent domain by certain nonelected authorities and to prohibit the contested use of eminent domain except for public use as defined by general law?

HUNTING AND FISHING: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the tradition of fishing and hunting and the taking of fish and wildlife shall be preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good?

LICENSE PLATES: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide for special motor vehicle license plates and dedicate the revenue from such plates for stated purposes, including dedications for the ultimate use of agencies, funds, or nonprofit corporations where it is found that there will be a benefit to the state?

Source: Georgia Secretary of State