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Georgia House approves lawsuits against governments

03/05/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Representative Andrew Welch, R - McDonough, looks through paperwork during the afternoon session in the House at the Georgia State Capitol building, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. The legislature was in session for the 27th day of the 2019 General Assembly. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
03/05/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Representative Andrew Welch, R - McDonough, looks through paperwork during the afternoon session in the House at the Georgia State Capitol building, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. The legislature was in session for the 27th day of the 2019 General Assembly. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Georgians could sue the government to try to overturn unconstitutional laws, according to a bill approved by the state House on Thursday.

The legislation, which passed 168-4, would reinstate Georgians' ability to use the courts to stop illegal government actions. The Georgia Supreme Court prevented these kinds of lawsuits in 2017, ruling that citizens couldn't sue a state or local government without the government's permission.

"We are opening up the courthouse doors for our citizens to come back in and sue if they need to," said state Rep. Andy Welch, a Republican from McDonough. "Each one of us holds the keys to the courthouse when it comes to challenging government action."

The measure, House Bill 311, empowers judges to intervene against government overreach, but it bars monetary relief. The legislation grants a limited waiver to the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity that protects governments from being sued without their consent.

The bill now advances to the state Senate, where a similar proposal stalled last year.