Georgia House sends question over suing government to voters

Georgians will get to vote on whether to make it easier to sue the state and local governments under a proposed constitutional amendment given final passage Tuesday by the state House.

In a vote of 164-0, the House passed House Resolution 1023, sending the question to voters as a ballot referendum. The state Senate passed the measure 50-0 on Monday.

Former Gov. Nathan Deal and Gov. Brian Kemp both vetoed previous legislative attempts to broaden the grounds for suits against the government. But the governor has no authority to veto a proposed constitutional amendment.

Lawmakers are reacting to state Supreme Court decision that says state and local governments can only be sued if they have waived a legal doctrine called sovereign immunity.

“It was only five years ago that you could bring suit against a local government or the state government to enjoin an unconstitutional action,” said Rep. Andy Welch, a McDonough Republican who sponsored the legislation. “The Supreme Court has rendered decisions that have changed that. And thus, it is for our responsibility as legislators to put before the people a check on that judicial decision.”

Welch said the amendment would allow Georgians to sue in state court to protect their rights and ensure governments follow the law, but would not allow judges to award damages or attorney’s fees.

The amendment would also prohibit people from suing individual officials within a government.