Fulton redistricting plan clears Senate

A Republican plan to redraw Fulton County Commission districts sailed through the Senate on Thursday over the objections of Democrats who called it a power grab.

The Senate also approved bills changing the method of appointing the chair of the Fulton elections board and making the county’s chief magistrate judge an elected post. Republicans say the bills will help reform a dysfunctional county.

“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 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 debates a series of Republican bills designed to reshape Fulton County. Other bills would give homeowners a property tax break, make it easier to fire employees and make the elected tax commissioner an appointed position.

By a 31-11 vote, the Senate passed House Bill 171, the Republican redistricting plan. It 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.

By a 31-13 vote, the Senate also approved House Bill 347. It allows the Republican-controlled Fulton legislative delegation to appoint the chair of the county elections board. Currently, the county commission appoints the chair.

Democrats said it was another partisan power grab. Republicans said it would help them address problems that have plagued county elections.

By a 29-12 vote, the Senate also approved House Bill 443, which would make the county’s chief magistrate judge an elected position. Fulton currently has the only appointed chief magistrate in the state.

But under the bill, the governor would appoint the next magistrate before an election was held. Democrats said Gov. Nathan Deal likely would appoint a Republican to the nonpartisan post, giving the appointee the power of incumbency.

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