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Crawford: Pay attention to the constitutional amendments
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We've been concentrating so closely on the governor's race that it's easy to forget several amendments to the state constitution will also be decided by the voters on Nov. 2.

Constitutional amendments can be confusing for a nonlawyer to understand and they are sometimes misleadingly worded when they appear on the ballot. But this year, at least one of the amendments could literally be a matter of life or death for many Georgians.

Amendment 2 would impose an annual fee of $10 on each motor vehicle tag, with the resulting revenue, an estimated $80 million to $90 million a year, used to upgrade the state's network of trauma care facilities.

The trauma care amendment was put on the ballot because of a recognition that Georgia has one of the nation's worst networks of emergency medical facilities. Even Alabama does a better job than we do of having trauma care hospitals accessible to people who need urgent medical attention immediately, such as the victims in a catastrophic auto accident.

The amendment presents voters with a very basic choice: Is it more important that taxes never be raised under any circumstances, or should Georgia spend the money needed to save the lives of people who may be involved in a three-car wreck on I-75 south of Macon?

Another issue that cuts right to the heart of a basic issue is Amendment 1.

This amendment is worded on the ballot so that voters may not realize what they are really voting for. It reads: "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to make Georgia more economically competitive by authorizing legislation to uphold reasonable competitive agreements?"

What Amendment 1 really does is give corporate executives and business owners the power to drastically restrict the freedom of their employees to ever go out on their own and start their own businesses.

Business owners can currently require their employees to sign noncompete contracts, so that if employees leave to start a business they can't use trade secrets or sensitive information they may have learned during their former job.

These contracts have to be reasonably written, however, so that a person's right to earn a living isn't permanently restricted. If a noncompete contract is challenged in court and one of the provisions is found to be illegally restrictive, then the entire agreement is voided and the worker is free to operate his own business.

Amendment 1 would allow noncompete contracts to remain in effect even if a judge determines that part of the agreement violates state law. A corporation could load up a noncompete contract with dozens of severe restrictions, require its employees to sign these agreements, and be assured that enough of the restrictions would survive a court challenge to prevent the employees from ever being able to start a competing business.

The Georgia Libertarian Party, which opposes the passage of Amendment 1, described it this way:

"This amendment would stifle growth of the economy by providing a barrier to entry to smaller, more agile firms wishing to compete in the marketplace, should they choose to employ those previously employed by a firm in that industry. While employment contracts can be an important part of an employer-employee relationship, they should not be used to punish those who seek to grow the market outside the established firms."

Two of the other amendments on the ballot have more to do with government accounting procedures than with any great constitutional questions.

Amendment 3 would allow the Georgia Department of Transportation to sign multiyear contracts for highway construction projects even if all the money for the project is not allocated in the current budget.

Complicated highway projects often require more than a year or two to complete, so multiyear contracts can sometimes be a viable alternative for getting these projects financed and completed.

Amendment 4 would similarly authorize state agencies to sign multiyear contracts with companies that retrofit government buildings with energy-saving or water-saving devices. These energy efficiency projects can save money for taxpayers in the long run, so a multiyear contract may be something worth considering

These obviously aren't the most exciting issues in the world, but they're important to Georgians who work and pay taxes. You owe it to yourself to make informed decisions.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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