Georgia House backs bill allowing residents to sue the government

Rep. Chuck Efstration R - Dacula, introduced the sovereign immunity legislation, House Bill 791, in the House on Wednesday. He's pictured here on Feb. 22. PHOTO / JASON GETZ
Rep. Chuck Efstration R - Dacula, introduced the sovereign immunity legislation, House Bill 791, in the House on Wednesday. He's pictured here on Feb. 22. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Georgians could soon be able to sue to try to overturn a law that might be illegal or unconstitutional.

The Georgia House voted 177-0 on Wednesday to approve House Bill 791, which allows a limited waiver to the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity that protects governments from being sued without their consent.

If the bill also passes the Senate, residents could ask a judge to stop government officials from breaking the law, said Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs. A judge could issue an injunction or grant declaratory relief in some cases.

For example, a resident could sue to stop a government procurement official from improperly steering a contract to a company, Willard said.

“The people had no way to stop the government from doing something that may have been wrong,” said Willard, a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The legislation comes after the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the principles of sovereign immunity in a challenge to the state's "fetal pain" law last year, ruling that citizens couldn't sue a state or local government without the government's permission.

Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a similar bill two years ago, but he said in January he’s now receptive to it after a court reform council he created endorsed the change.

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