Georgia General Assembly Approves Referendum on Sovereign Immunity (UPDATE 1)



andy welch(APN) ATLANTA — On June 16, 2020, the Georgia General Assembly approved legislation that will give the voters of Georgia a chance to decide in a November 2020 referendum whether Georgians should be able to sue the State of Georgia in Georgia courts for declaratory judgment – in other words, to sue for a declaration that the State of Georgia has broken the law.


HR 1023 is sponsored in the Georgia House by State Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough); and co-sponsored by State Reps. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), Robert Trammell (D-Luthersville), Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown), and Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur).


Twice so far the General Assembly has passed bills aimed at amending the Georgia Constitution to amend the provisions relating to sovereign immunity.  Then-Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed one of the bills in 2016 and Gov. Kemp vetoed the second bill, HB 311, in 2019.


Unlike the previous bills, HR 1023 sends the question directly to the voters, and the Governor is unable to veto it.


The most current version of the bill passed the State Senate in a vote of fifty to zero on June 15, 2020; and passed the State House on June 16 in a vote of 164 to zero.


Many readers of Atlanta Progressive News may be understandably shocked to learn that currently, Georgia citizens are generally unable to sue the State of Georgia in state courts because of a legal doctrine called “sovereign immunity.”  


The doctrine basically means that the State of Georgia is so sovereign, that it is immune from legal challenges, unless the State consents to be sued.  


The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld Georgia’s sovereign immunity in a series of rulings.  These rulings say that if a government official has broken a law, that they may only be sued in their personal capacity.  The idea is that if the government official has deviated so much from the law, that they are no longer acting on behalf of the government when they do so.


Currently, the State of Georgia has only consented to being sued in state courts for certain tort matters that require special advance notice to the state prior to the lawsuit being filed.


If the referendum appears on the November 03, 2020 General Election ballot, the text is to appear as follows:


“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to waive sovereign immunity and allow the people of Georgia to petition the superior court for relief from governmental acts done outside the scope of lawful authority or which violate the laws of this state, the Constitution of Georgia, or the Constitution of the United States?”


According to HR 1023, if approved by voters the Constitutional Amendment will take immediate effect, but it will only apply to “acts which occur on or after January 1, 2021.”


(END /  Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2020)


UPDATE 1 and CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Gov. Kemp would get to decide whether to veto the referendum.  In fact, under the Georgia Constitution, referenda are submitted directly to the voters and cannot be vetoed by the governor.

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