Last week, the Georgia Legislature convened into special session as a result of an official call issued by Gov. Nathan Deal.
As expected, in his list of issues to be considered, Deal included redistricting, or the redrawing of the state’s legislative and congressional districts, as well as formal approval of the suspension of the July 1 increase in the state‘s gas tax.
In a somewhat surprising move, the governor also included changing the date of the regional transportation tax (TSPLOST) referendum next year and local legislation “of an urgent matter” although “urgent matter” was not defined.
While all of the issues are certainly important, as expected, the dominating issue thus far has been redistricting.
After being released to the public the week before, Senate and House maps were formally passed last week out of their respective reapportionment committees and passed by each chamber.
The redrawing of political maps, a necessary exercise performed every 10 years after the census is completed to ensure every citizen is duly represented, is a fascinating experience. If ever one wants to understand the true meaning of the word territorial, just try taking away part of a politician’s district that he or she wants to keep.
During debate last week on the proposed Senate maps, tempers flared, accusations were flung and there was much gnashing of teeth. And while not unexpected, it was a sight to see.
Much to the delight of many, Southeast Georgia and the Coastal region, in particular, fared well by most accounts. Although some changes were made to existing districts, we did not lose any seats. And there was a sizeable victory particularly in Chatham County, where we were able to retain all six House members.
But other areas of the state were not so fortunate, particularly Southwest Georgia, where population figures have been either stagnant or decreasing.
In fact, the map passed by the Senate last week included only one district where two senators were paired against each other, and that was in Southwest Georgia.
The new Senate map, which passed that chamber Thursday by a vote of 35-18 and now goes to the House for its approval, is generally considered fair and sensible and, most importantly, should pass constitutional requirements without any problems.
Over the past 10 years, Senate districts have increased from 146,187 to 172,994 citizens per district. The map passed last week has a population deviation average of 0.6 percent, the same as the court-drawn plan of 2004, and increases the number of majority-minority districts in the state from 14 to 15.
Perhaps most impressive is the fact that only 38 of Georgia’s 159 counties are split and less that 50 of the state’s precincts are split. This is truly a commendable achievement.
Nevertheless, members of the minority party were not happy, and accusations of suppression, segregation and regression were leveled at the majority party.
This week, the Senate will take up the House maps and the House will take up the Senate maps. The proposed congressional maps should be released later this week.
Also this week the Senate will consider ratification of the suspension of the gas sales tax hike that was approved by the House last week by a vote of 150-10.
The other item called for consideration during the special session, changing the voting date on the TSPLOST referendum from the July primaries to the general election on Nov. 6, 2012, has turned out to be somewhat controversial.
Supporters of the move, including the governor and leadership, say that since more people vote in the general election, moving the date would allow more Georgians to participate.
Opponents of the change, including members of the Tea Party, claim that the proposed date change is being made only to increase the chances of the measure passing, particularly in the Atlanta area.
An important component of this measure is whether all SPLOST votes can be changed to the general election as is being proposed by many legislators, including myself, or whether only the TSLOST can be moved during the special session.
Regardless, we are back in session this week with crayons in hand drawing more maps, gnashing more teeth, flinging more accusations ...
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building Room 301-A, Atlanta, Ga., 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.