By Errin Haines, The Associated Press
ATLANTA - As Georgia lawmakers prepare for a battle over the once-a-decade redrawing of political boundaries, the state Legislature's joint committee on redistricting has approved the guidelines for the process, now less than a month away.
The House and Senate committees met separately for more than an hour Wednesday before adopting the guidelines. While the House panel voted unanimously to approve the rules, the Senate committee vote was 8-3 along party lines.
The five-page document is identical for both the House and Senate. Among the guidelines outlined:
* All formal meetings of the full committee will be open to the public.
* Maps or other related materials prepared by lawmakers using the reapportionment office that have not been presented to the joint committee will not be considered public or subject to open records laws.
* Maps will comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits the dilution of minority voting power and requires the committee to consider issues of compactness, county and precinct boundaries and communities of interest.
The Senate committee's three Democrats each introduced an amendment to the guidelines, calling for protection of free speech and minority voting rights and an end to partisanship in the redistricting process. The amendments were voted down along party lines.
No amendments were introduced in the House meeting.
Gov. Nathan Deal has said he will summon lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session on redistricting to begin Aug. 15.
The state's redistricting process is a partisan one, and Republicans are in control for the first time - leaving Democrats crying foul after decades of wielding power. Redistricting is required every 10 years to adjust political boundaries according to changes in the state's population based on the U.S. census.
"This is not a process that we choose to do," said Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee.
Seabaugh vowed a more open and transparent process from years past.
Jerry Gonzalez, president of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, spoke at both hearings and expressed concern about the "hostile environment" toward Latinos in the state.
"We'll be watching very closely to ensure that voting power of Latinos is not diminished in any way, shape or form," Gonzalez said.
Georgia's growth is bringing the state an additional congressional seat.