Officials look forward to new district lines

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

DULUTH — Instead of simply dwelling on a legislative session completed two months ago, officials looked forward Wednesday, talking about the upcoming special session to draw new district lines.

During a legislative summit at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, lawmakers noted some big accomplishments of the 2011 session, including the overhaul of the HOPE scholarship.

But many said their eyes are set ahead to the special session devoted to reapportionment, where newly released 2010 Census figures will determine new representatives in government, from city councils to Congress.

Gwinnett is likely to see an increase in its Georgia House delegation and could figure into the new congressional seat the state will add, officials said.

Sen. Renee Unterman said her current district, which includes much of eastern Gwinnett, is the second largest in the state and could be nearly cut in half. Other Gwinnett districts could also become a lot smaller, as lawmakers try to make boundaries that give equal representation.

“In Gwinnett, we know definitely there will be a lot of changes because there has been a lot of growth,” Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, said, adding that representation would drop in south Georgia and other areas. “Things are going to look different because of population shifts.”

Sen. Fran Millar, whose district includes Peachtree Corners, said reapportionment debates can be very contentious because the maps last for 10 years.

“There’s a lot of self-serving being done,” he said. “I would watch with great interest.”

Sheldon, who is the House majority caucus chairwoman, said the focus would be on fairness, not political gain, a contrast to the past process, where gerrymandered maps were thrown out in court.

“Whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge, our job is to draw fair maps,” she said.

She encouraged people to participate in a series of public hearings scheduled around the state. Locally, hearings have been scheduled for June 21 in Gainesville and June 30 in Atlanta.