ATLANTA -- The Georgia Legislature is poised to vote on new proposed political boundaries for the state Thursday, less than a week after the maps were unveiled to the public.
Republican lawmakers called for a speedier redistricting process and have moved swiftly since the special session opened Monday to tackle the issue. After the joint redistricting committee approved the maps Tuesday, the House and Senate Rules committees Wednesday sent the legislation to their respective chambers.
Democrats say the process is being rushed and say the proposed maps could violate the Voting Rights Act. Senate Democrats plan to introduce alternate maps on the floor Thursday after they were denied an opportunity to present their plan at the committee hearing, and are hoping to amend the current proposal, which is unchanged from when it was unveiled to the public Friday.
House Democrats attempted to amend that chamber’s map during its committee hearing, also without success. The House has limited floor debate on the map to three hours.
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Partisan tempers have flared and Wednesday, House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams questioned why Anne Lewis, hired as legal counsel for the redistricting process, refused to provide Democrats with information they sought. Lewis is also general counsel to the state Republican Party. She’s being paid between $225 and $425 an hour for her redistricting work, according to her contract.
In a letter to Abrams, Lewis said she and her firm cannot respond to requests for information or legal advice from each of 236 members of the state Legislature. She wrote that requests must be funneled through the House speaker.
The House on Thursday also will take up a measure to keep in place a freeze on Georgia’s gas tax. Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order in June halting an increase that would have kicked in July 1. State lawmakers need to ratify the move, which Deal aides say will save motorists an estimated $40 million in taxes.
The House Ways and Means Committee approved the bill Tuesday. The state gas tax had been set to rise 1.6 cents a gallon, as a result of a formula tied to fuel prices. The action means that rate will remain at 12.9 cents a gallon rather than rising to 14.5 cent a gallon.
Both chambers must approve redistricting plans for the House and Senate before they can head to the governor for his signature. This is the first year Republicans have controlled the partisan process from start to finish, and Democrats have alluded to a legal challenge to the current proposals.
Redistricting must be done once a decade to adjust political lines to conform to the U.S. census. Due to a past history of racial discrimination, Georgia and some other Southern states must submit redistricting plans and other election law changes to the Justice Department or a federal court for review, to safeguard against minority disenfranchisement.
After a busy four days, the Legislature is scheduled to be off Friday and will return Monday to take up the remainder of its business.
Lawmakers also intend to approve new congressional district maps -- including a new U.S. House district as a result of population growth -- and the transportation tax referendum.
Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this report