published Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Georgia Senate committee approves congressional plan

Sen. Vincent Fort, of District 39 representing Fulton County, disputes the proposed redistricting maps in the Georgia Senate at the State Capitol Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 in Atlanta, Ga. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Jason Getz)
Sen. Vincent Fort, of District 39 representing Fulton County, disputes the proposed redistricting maps in the Georgia Senate at the State Capitol Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 in Atlanta, Ga. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Jason Getz)
Photo by Associated Press.
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ERRIN HAINES, Associated Press

ATLANTA — The Senate redistricting committee on Tuesday approved proposed changes to Georgia's congressional districts, and the maps are now headed to the Senate floor — bringing a speedy end to the Legislature's main business of the summer special session.

The plan passed by a 10-3 vote Tuesday. The House has already approved the congressional map, and Gov. Nathan Deal has already signed both proposed legislative maps into law. All three maps must be approved by the Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act.

Committee Democrats attempted to amend the congressional map on Tuesday, saying their version preserved minority voting strength and would avoid a lawsuit. Republicans raised questions about the political motivations for the alternate proposal — particularly in the 12th District, which would favor a Democrat.

The GOP proposal would require U.S. Rep John Barrow of Savannah, the Deep South's last white congressional Democrat, to move to run for re-election in his newly drawn district.

Several citizens came to the meeting to comment on the proposed congressional plan, including many from north Georgia, where the state's newest congressional district was drawn and most of the state's growth has occurred over the past decade. George McClellan, chairman of the Gilmer County Republican Party, said he was concerned about the county losing influence to Hall County in the new configuration.

Bill Craig of the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce, told the committee that the northwest Georgia is very different from the northeast corner of the state, where Gilmer has been moved under the proposed congressional plan.

"This is a lot about relationships that were built over the years," Craig said.

William Perry of Common Cause of Georgia said this year's process underscores the need for nonpartisan redistricting. He said while this year's process was more transparent, "the bar was already low."

The amendment was voted down by a 3-9 vote.

Also in Tuesday's meeting, the Senate redistricting committee voted to approve two House proposals that would change the boundaries for the Henry County board of commissioners and its school board. Dozens of Henry County residents came to the hearing to state their opposition to the plan, and Democrats called for the issue to be postponed until January.

Both proposals were approved by the committee along partisan lines, with Democrats voting against the bills.

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