Georgia has had 10 Constitutions since 1777.
The current Georgia Constitution was adopted in 1983 and has been amended 70 times.
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Georgia’s first Constitution was written in 1777 by a Constitutional Convention. New Constitutions were written by Constitutional Conventions in 1789, 1798, 1861, 1865, 1868, and 1877.
Delegates to the Constitutional Conventions were elected in the same manner as elections for the legislature. The number of Convention delegates to be chosen was often spelled out in terms of the General Assembly (for example, in both 1861 and 1865, counties with 2 representatives in the House got 3 delegates and those with one representative got 2 delegates in the Convention).
Constitutional Commissions (rather than Conventions) drafted the Constitutions of 1945 and 1983. The difficulty in securing two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly to call conventions or to approve draft constitutions led to this change. The General Assembly’s resolutions setting up these commissions prescribed the choice of members. Commissions were composed of state officials such as the governor and attorney general, legislators (including the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate), judges (including Supreme Court justices), officers of civic organizations, and presidents of large businesses based in Georgia.
The 1976 Constitution was unique in that it was drafted by the Office of Legislative Counsel of the Georgia General Assembly. The Governor, George Busbee, had served in the House during a failed attempt to revise the 1945 Constitution. He thought that a complete revision would be too difficult. Busbee asked the Office of Legislative Counsel to reorganize the 1945 Constitution and all of the amendments without making substantive changes. The resulting document was passed by the General Assembly and won easy approval from the voters. By streamlining the 1945 constitution in 1976, Busbee made the subsequent complete revision (1983) possible. The next year, the General Assembly set up the Commission which completed its work in 1981 on the Constitution that went into effect in 1983.
The Constitution of 1777 provided for amendment by popular initiative. Alterations required petitions from a majority of counties, and those petitions had to be signed by the majority of voters in each county. At that point, the Legislature would call a convention to make the changes requested in the petitions. This Constitution was never amended.
The Constitution of 1789 contained a provision for a new convention after 5 years to consider appropriate changes. The new convention met in 1795 and made several changes to the Constitution. The delegates declared the changes would take effect in 4 ½ months and set a new convention for 1798.
The Constitution of 1798 required that proposed amendments had to pass both House and Senate by two-thirds vote, be published for at least six months before the next election, and then pass both houses again by a two-thirds vote. The Constitution of 1798 lasted sixty-three years and was amended only 23 times. There were also Constitutional Conventions called by the General Assembly in 1832 and 1838 to consider amendments. In both cases the conventions submitted the amendments to the voters and the voters rejected the changes.
1861 and 1865
The 1861 and 1865 constitutions only allowed amendments written by a convention called for that purpose. They were never amended.
The 1868 convention went back to the amending rules of the 1798 convention that required two-thirds votes of two successive legislatures, and it added submission to a public vote to the requirements for ratification.
In 1877, the amending process began to take its modern form: two thirds vote of both houses, advertisement in newspapers in each congressional district, and ratification by a majority of those voting on the amendment. The General Assembly also could by two-thirds vote call a Constitutional Convention.
By 1943, the Constitution of 1877 had been amended 301 times. Many of these were local amendments applying to only one city or county. The Legislature provided for a commission to write a new constitution.
The Constitution of 1945 kept the same rules for amendments and noted that local amendments had to pass both locally and statewide to be considered part of the Constitution. The process choked the ballot with local amendments. For example, in the 1980 general election, voters had to vote on 16 general amendments and 121 local amendments.
When the Constitution was rewritten in 1976, the local amendment process was changed to require only the vote of the affected area. There was no longer a requirement that local amendments had to pass both locally and statewide, but local amendments still were part of the Constitution.
The last major change to the amending process came with the Constitution of 1983. The new Constitution stated that “Only amendments which are of general and uniform applicability throughout the state shall be proposed, passed, or submitted to the people.” This change streamlined the constitution considerably by removing local amendments altogether.
Article X of the Constitution details the current amending process. Amendments to the current constitution or a new constitution may be proposed by the General Assembly or a Constitutional Convention. Only “amendments that are of general and uniform applicability throughout the state shall be proposed, passed, or submitted to the people.” The Governor cannot veto any proposed amendment.
A proposal to amend the Constitution begins as a resolution in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, and, if approved by two-thirds of the members of each house, it is submitted to the voters of the entire state at the next general election which is held in the even-numbered years.
If the proposed amendment is ratified by a majority of the voters, the amendment becomes part of the constitution and becomes effective the first day of January following its ratification unless the amendment itself includes a different effective date.
If there is more than one proposed amendment, they must be submitted so that each amendment can be voted on separately.
Images of the constitutions are available at: http://sos.georgia.gov/archives/ what_do_we_have/online_records/historic_documents/default.htm
For the text of the current Georgia Constitution, please see: http://www.sos.ga.gov/elections/constitution_2011.pdf
For the text of the earlier constitutions, please see:
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