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Senate panel OKs new House districts for Hall

Proposed map keeps county's representatives at 4

POSTED: February 15, 2012 11:24 p.m.

ATLANTA — A redesign of state House districts in Hall County awaits the approval of the state Senate after a Senate committee in charge of Georgia's voting districts gave an initial OK Wednesday.

The maps have already garnered the approval of the House.

Traditionally, each chamber respects the other's preferences when it comes to deciding voting districts.

The only opposition in Wednesday's hearing came from the committee's three present Democrats.

In addition to realigning districts in Hall, the bill seeks to tweak House boundaries in Carroll County, where a newly elected Republican representative is paired with another Republican incumbent.

The change seeks to keep those two Republicans from having to run against each other in this year's election

But so far, no other requests for amended district boundaries in the state House have been considered by the House committee on legislative reapportionment.

And that's where Sen. Vincent Fort's opposition came. Fort is the minority whip in the Senate.

During the hearing, Fort asked House Reapportionment Chairman Roger Lane, R-Brunswick, if he had considered requests to redraw district lines in metro Atlanta that paired two incumbent black Democrats, Ralph Long and Simone Bell.

Fort, Sen. Horacena Tate and Sen. Steve Henson were the only committee members present who opposed the bill.

After the hearing, Fort didn't specifically oppose the proposal but raised the matter of fairness. He said the changes showed a bias toward white incumbents.

"I think what's wrong is that they're doing it for white incumbents and not doing it for the African-American incumbents," Fort said.

Lane told senators on the committee that the House likely wouldn't consider any more changes to the House voting map.

The map state lawmakers approved in a special session last August has already been given preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Any changes to it, including those proposed for Hall County, will have to face the Justice Department's scrutiny again.

The districts in Atlanta are districts with a population that comprises mostly ethnic minorities. Lane said any changes to the already approved boundaries in those areas might jeopardize Georgia's compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

"We're not going to undo everything we did to comply with the Voting Rights Act," Lane said.

That map added three House districts into Hall County, most of which were drawn in a way that kept Hall residents in the minority, a change that some local leaders called a dilution of the county's power.

The map lumped East Hall voters into a district mostly made up of Banks and Stephens counties. It grouped some West Hall voters in a district largely composed of Lumpkin and Dawson counties. South Hall, too, was divided among two majority Gwinnett County districts.

Hall is home to Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Deal lobbied for the changes last summer and signed off on the seven-member delegation with the promise that House leadership would revisit the county's boundaries. Hall's current delegation also voted for the old plan, saying they'd been promised changes would come early this year.

Lane's newest proposal, which soon will be decided by the full Senate, keeps Hall's number of House delegates at four, as it is now, cutting the county's voters out of the bigger districts in nearby counties.

The bill calling for the changes to Hall's boundaries includes a caveat that if Justice Department officials haven't approved it in time for qualifying, Hall will have to go with the seven-member delegation until 2014.

Some voters from Hall's Buford precinct, Roberts, and all those from the precincts at Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian Church, The Springs Community Church and Friendship Elementary School would be represented in a new district mostly located in Gwinnett County.

The rest of South Hall's voters are included in districts drawn entirely or mostly in Hall.

The North Hall district now represented by Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, would include portions of Hall and White counties. It takes in portions of East Hall, including Gillsville, and some voters from the Tadmore and Gainesville Masonic Lodge precincts.

 



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