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New House districts not a done deal
Senate, governor, DOJ must approve changes
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A plan to cut the number of state House districts that reach into Hall County isn't a done deal yet.

Though it's unlikely the plan will stall in the Senate, the Senate committee in charge of deciding which bills get a vote in the full chamber and when hasn't put this one up yet.

Charlie Bethel, the Dalton senator in charge of carrying the changes through the Senate, said he's hopeful the Senate will vote on the issue next week. And as with any change that affects voting in Georgia, the new district map has to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Certainly there's a sense of urgency, because there's a time frame and we don't want to miss it..." Bethel said. "We don't want to turn our homework in late, so to speak."

Once the Senate passes the bill, it will need the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal, who lobbied for the changes last year. Then, the state Attorney General's office will submit the proposal to the justice department.

"We would do it as expeditiously as possible," said Lauren Kane, a spokewoman for Attorney General Sam Olens.

The justice department has 60 days from the date a state submits a voting change to decide if it complies with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and doesn't disenfranchise minorities. And that time frame is only if the justice department has no questions about Georgia's submission, said justice department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa.

"We either make a decision in 60 days or ask for more information," Hinojosa said. "When we receive that (requested) information, the 60-day period starts again."

As he's defended the new district designs, Roger Lane, head of the House reapportionment committee, has said over and over that he doesn't think the justice department ought to be a problem when it comes to the changes he's proposed for districts in Hall.

The changes have already passed the House and the Senate's redistricting committee. If the state hasn't had a favorable report from the justice department by the time candidates qualify for election to the state House this May, then candidates will run on the districts as they were passed last summer, according to the committee amendment.

In Hall, that back-up scenario means that seven people would represent parts of the county in the state House. It would add three House districts into Hall, most of which have been drawn in a way that keeps Hall residents in the minority, a change that some local leaders have called a dilution of the county's power.

It would mean East Hall voters would belong to a district mostly made up of Banks and Stephens counties. Some West Hall voters would be part of a district largely composed of Lumpkin and Dawson counties.

South Hall, too, would be divided among two majority Gwinnett County districts.

The four-member district then wouldn't become a reality until 2014, provided the justice department signs off.