Georgia Senate votes to allow lawsuits over questionable laws

State Rep. Alan Powell (right), R - Hartwell,  confers with Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, on the senate floor on March 30, 2017.   BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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State Rep. Alan Powell (right), R - Hartwell, confers with Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, on the senate floor on March 30, 2017. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

The Georgia Senate voted Monday to allow residents to sue their government over unconstitutional laws.

The Senate voted 49-0 to permit lawsuits challenging state and local governments, letting judges decide whether laws have gone too far.

"In the event that the government is engaged in an unconstitutional act ... we have a right to go to the courts" if House Bill 311 is approved, said state Sen. John F. Kennedy, a Republican from Macon.

Georgians lost the ability to use the courts to stop illegal government actions in 2017, when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that citizens couldn't sue without the government's permission.

The legislation approved by the Senate on Monday would give that permission by granting a limited waiver to the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity.

The proposal previously passed the state House this month, but because it was amended in the Senate, the House needs to vote one more time on the final version of the bill before sending it to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.