House and Senate panels preparing to redraw the state's political boundaries will meet next week, but anyone who wants to attend both had better figure out how to be in two places at the same time.
The House committee on redistricting announced Tuesday it would meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 20. A day later, its Senate counterpart announced it, too, would meet next week -- also at 2 p.m. and also on that Wednesday. The House committee will meet in Room 606 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building; the Senate panel will gather across the street in Room 450 of the Capitol.
Redistricting is the politically sensitive process of redrawing legislative districts that occurs every 10 years following the U.S. census. It's time-consuming, often dull but hugely important as it determines who is represented by whom and can have major implications for political power.
Even before the heavy discussions begin, the scheduling of next week's meetings is already drawing criticism.
The committee chairmen said meeting at the same time allows them to better coordinate plans. It is not intended to prevent people from attending both, they said.
"We felt like this was a good thing to do," Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, said, noting that each meeting will be lengthy. "There will be ample time for individuals who want to go back and forth between the two."
Rep. Roger Lane, R-Darien, said he and Seabaugh coordinated the meeting days and that they just happened to be scheduled for the same hour.
Asked if he was concerned the dueling meetings would prevent the public from following both, Lane acknowledged it's a possibility.
"After the fact, that could be a factor," Lane said. "But I think they'll have plenty of opportunity to participate in both. I anticipate they'll last a pretty good time."
A solution for people is to attend the Senate meeting in person and then watch the House version online. The House has been streaming its meetings live on the Internet and will post the full video afterward. That website is www1.legis.ga.gov/legis/2011_12/house/Committees/reapportionment/gahlcrCalendarJT.html.
Because lawmakers have much on the line -- a shift in district lines can spell easy re-election or certain defeat -- the committee chairmen say they felt it best to meet at the same time.
"One thing we wanted to do was not have one chamber get out ahead of the other," Seabaugh said. "That creates anxiety for members."
But others said lawmakers' concern should be secondary to public access.
Elizabeth Poythress, president of the Georgia League of Women Voters, said she appreciated that the joint House-Senate committee that sponsored the hearings called for openness. That is not happening in this case, she said.
"Holding separate meetings at the exact same time in different locations clearly takes away the opportunity of citizens to [participate]," she said.
Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, the Democratic whip in the House, said voters are being shortchanged.
"I find it difficult to find transparency in that type of setup," she said.
Lane and Seabaugh said draft maps of new district lines for the state House and Senate and the U.S. Congress will not be presented next week. Instead, both bodies will discuss and adopt guidelines and principles to be used in drawing the maps. Lawmakers are expected to return to session Aug. 15 to approve new maps. Lane said the public will be able to comment on the maps before legislators vote.
Wednesday's discussions will follow weeks of public hearings around the state. Both chairmen said they'll use input from those sessions to create the guidelines.
"We have to adhere to the one-person, one-vote part of the [U.S.] Constitution and getting districts as close to the mean of the average population we have to have, and we have to make sure our maps adhere to the Voting Rights Act," Seabaugh said.
One-person, one-vote refers to the mandate that each district holds roughly the same number of people. Under the Voting Rights Act, Georgia is one of nine states that must have any change to elections and voting law approved by the Justice Department or a federal court.