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3 state representatives want fewer districts in Hall
Under proposed map, county split amongst 7 legislators
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ATLANTA — The three state representatives from Hall County say they are working to change the legislative maps for the state.

Reps. James Mills, Doug Collins and Carl Rogers want the proposed districts for representation in the state House changed so Hall County isn’t as divided.

Proposed maps for the new House districts keep Hall County’s core delegation intact, but would divide the county’s western, eastern and southern borders among three representatives from outside the county.

Another district drawn on the southern border of the county would create an open seat, but the majority of voters for that district would be from Gwinnett County.

State lawmakers got back to work Monday to take on the controversial task of redrawing the state’s political boundaries in a specially called legislative session.

The real work begins today when a committee from each chamber will begin hearing from the public on the proposed maps.

In the meantime, Mills, a Republican from Chestnut Mountain, plans to lobby House and Senate leadership for changes.

Rogers, who was originally optimistic about the proposed maps, says he is supporting Mills in that effort.

When maps were released Friday, Rogers said the introduction of new legislators in Hall County could only be good, because the new maps meant more people would be looking out for the county’s interests under the Gold Dome.

But after a meeting of the Hall County GOP on Saturday, Rogers changed his tune. He said between 30 and 40 people complained to him about the maps. The first complaint, he said, came from a man from Gillsville, who would be represented by Toccoa Republican Michael Harden under the proposal.

The majority of Harden’s district would be composed of Banks and Stephens counties.

“I got nothing but complaints about Hall County being chopped up,” Rogers said.

Something similar happens to Mills’ district in South Hall.

Mills stands to lose a large number of his constituents in South Hall to two districts based in Gwinnett County.

“Naturally, anybody who represents a district doesn’t want to lose any of their constituents,” Mills said. “... I’m hopeful that we can make some tweaks to the current situation.”

Aside from taking away some of Mills’ longtime constituents, he said the proposed map doesn’t do justice to Hall County’s interests.

“To have three more members added to the delegation, which the majority of their districts are made up of people outside of Hall County, I think that causes some concern for Hall County citizens,” Mills said.

The new maps also draw the western bulb of Hall County into a district currently held by Dahlonega Republican Amos Amerson.

Along with the small portion of Hall, Amerson’s new district would comprise all of Lumpkin and a large portion of Dawson County.

The new lines would also mean Tommy Benton would no longer represent anyone in Hall County.

This is the first time Republicans have controlled the state’s redistricting process from start to finish.

Redistricting is required by federal law to adjust political lines according to population changes as reported by the census.

Georgia is one of several states with voting practices that are subject to additional scrutiny from the Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act to deter discrimination against minority voters.

Georgia’s population shifts will mean losses in the south and gains in the north in state representation in the General Assembly. The state’s growth has gained it an additional congressional seat.

The special session this month will also focus on a few other issues, including transportation. While the session has been budgeted for 40 days — the length of the normal General Assembly — Senate leaders were optimistic the process wouldn’t last nearly that long.

The Senate wasted no time Monday signaling its desire for a speedy session, quickly approving changes to its rules that would expedite the process.

“I don’t know of anybody who wants to be here for 40 days,” said Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, the Senate chair of the joint committee on redistricting. “The taxpayers don’t want us down here for 40 days. While we don’t want to railroad stuff, we want to be mindful about being as efficient as possible.”

Seabaugh said the changes adopt standard special session practices. Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville, said the rules were temporary and normal operating procedure would be restored at the end of the special session.

A Senate resolution approving the changes passed the chamber by a vote of 38 to 15. After the vote, Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson expressed concern the process is being rushed.

“While we in no way want to drag this process out any longer than necessary, we hope and are optimistic that the leadership will allow members of our caucus to engage fully in the process and provide input,” Henson told his colleagues.

He also decried the GOP-proposed Senate plan as an unfair attempt to achieve a Republican super majority that disenfranchises minority voters. He said the plan is a road map to a court challenge.

“We hope to resolve these issues legislatively, so that the citizen taxpayers of this state can avoid the high costs of litigation,” Henson said. “It is clear, however, that the current proposed map was designed for litigation and not for its primary purpose — creating appropriate representation for the citizens of Georgia.”

House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams echoed that concern in the House.

Abrams said if the House plan passed in its current form, a lawsuit would result. She repeatedly accused House Republicans of aiming to purge the state of white Democrats.

Rep. Roger Lane, who chairs the House committee on reapportionment, argues this year’s process is more fair than it has been in the past. He said he is hopeful the map revealed late last week for the House districts won’t change much.

”It’s a pretty solid map, Lane said.

Lane won’t speculate on where the session will go from there or whether Hall County legislators will get their wish.

“We’ve just started the legislative process, Lane said.

After a brief memorial service in the House for former state Rep. Bobby Franklin, who was found dead in his home last month, both chambers emptied by noon Monday.

The session will reconvene at 10 a.m. today. The Senate Reapportionment Committee begins its first public hearing at 11 a.m. The house committee will begin public hearings in the afternoon.

Rogers’ and Mills’ desires for the maps likely will not be aired in those meetings but done behind the scenes.

Rogers guesses he and Mills have about a 50 percent chance of success. But he plans to stand his ground.

“We’re going to look and see if it can be changed,” Rogers said. “If not, we’ll have to vote against it.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.