If you’re done wrong by a representative of the state of Georgia or a local government, it can be hard to get redress through the courts. A bill passed Monday out of the state House Judiciary Committee seeks to do something about that.
“With this legislation, we’ve tried to very narrowly tailor the scope of the waiver of sovereign immunity,” said state Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough. “As members of the committee are fully aware, sovereign immunity is the premise that the king can do no wrong. In that context, as the 13th colony, part of our reason for seeking rebellion against the king of England was we believed the king did do wrong, and there was no legitimate redress other than to revolt against the mother country of England. Within that context, the state of Georgia adopted a constitution that did not provide for sovereign immunity.”
Welch said that until 1991, there was no sovereign immunity provision in the state constitution, but in its existence since then, it can only be waived by the General Assembly. Welch said there were at least three hearings on House Bill 311 in subcommittee, which resulted in an amendment to the bill that takes into consideration comments made by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, the Georgia Municipal Association, the state Attorney General’s Office and others.
He noted the amendment, regarding the waiver, specifically “does not include rules and regulations, or policies or contracts that may fall under the purview of rules and regulations,” narrowing he scope of the waiver as it pertains to the state.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur and the only committee member to vote against the amendment, said she found this change bothersome.
“I’m very disappointed that the (state Administrative Procedure Act) provisions have been taken out of this bill,” Oliver said. “I’ve used this example before — for those of you that weren’t in these many, many, many subcommittees that we held, and we talked about this specifically. The provision that came out of the subcommittee, and please correct me if I’m wrong, was that a Georgia citizen would have the right to get injunctive or declaratory relief for a rule or regulation enacted by a state agency pursuant to to the APA.
“I thought that was fairly narrow, but it did allow some opportunity for citizens to look at Administrative Procedure Act violations of law. The example I kept coming back to was the lawsuit that was brought last year against the Georgia Building Authority that had a written guideline that said you are not entitled to a permit to demonstrate or to assemble on Liberty Plaza unless you were ‘invited’ by a constitutional officer.”
Welch confirmed that in the amended version, someone denied their rights in this fashion could not use waiver as a method to sue. He later added that while the language in the amended bill is narrower, it still provides an avenue for relief for people that doesn’t currently exist in state law.
The amended bill passed the committee and now moves on to the House Rules Committee.