The Georgia General Assembly adjourned the 2013 session last week with the Republicans having flexed their power to impose redistricting legislation on Fulton County.
The GOP plan to redraw Fulton County Commission districts sailed through the Senate over the objections of Democrats who called it a power grab.
“I think what we’ve done today represents the interests of the majority of people in Fulton County,” said Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta.
Democrats, however, said the bills are about politics, not reform.
“All of this is pursuing a narrow agenda to take a minority-majority county and strip power from the people of that county,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.
That’s been a common Democratic theme as the General Assembly debated a series of Republican bills designed to reshape Fulton County.
House Bill 171 eliminates an at-large county commission seat and creates a new north Fulton district. It also places two incumbent black Democrats in the same district. And though Democrats hold a 5-2 majority on the commission, the new districts could give Republicans a shot at a majority.
“Today we helped the people of Fulton County have more people in districts, which means elected officials will be more closer to them,” said Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell. “And that’s always a more positive thing.”
Democrats portrayed the plan as a racist attempt by white Republicans to seize power from black Democrats. They plan to ask the U.S. Department of Justice, which reviews election changes in Georgia, to reject the redistricting plan.
“If the Voting Right Act means anything, it means you cannot dilute the right of African Americans to elect the candidate of their choice,” said Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta.
In a final flurry of voting, the Assembly also addressed the following legislation.
LOBBYING RULES: Leaders in the House and Senate reached a compromise on lobbying rules. Under the plan, lobbyist expenditures would be limited to $75. People would have to register as lobbyists if they are paid to influence government officials or if they accept more than $250 in reimbursements for their lobbying expenses. Both chamber approved the deal, sending it to the governor.
ABORTION: The Senate made a last-minute play to prohibit state employee health insurance from covering elective abortions, however, the issue did not reach a resolution.
BUDGET: Lawmakers settled on a $41 billion state operating budget composed of state and federal money for the next fiscal year. The document cuts many state agencies, but includes new education spending and bonds for new public projects.
GUNS: House lawmakers earlier approved a more sweeping bill, one that would allow students with a license to carry a gun to take their firearms onto parts of public colleges and universities. Higher education leaders strongly opposed that plan, and the Senate backed a much less expansive proposal. Late Thursday, House leaders said the issue was dead for the year.
PRIVATE SCHOOL SCHOLARSHIPS: Legislators agreed to raise the cap from $50 million to $58 million on a program that gives tax breaks to individuals and corporations who give money to third-party groups that, in turn, provide grants for to private school students. Donors give directly to the organizations, then claim dollar-for-dollar tax credits that reduce their income tax liability to the state.