Lawmakers finished up this year’s legislative session late Thursday night. But they will be back at the state Capitol this summer for a special session on redistricting. And Gov. Nathan Deal will decide what else is on the agenda.
State lawmakers won’t have the option of taking the summer off. Every ten years, they must redraw the legislative maps based on new census data.
Gov. Deal told lawmakers Thursday evening that the session will take place around August 15th. But it remains unclear what it will include.
House Speaker David Ralston has said he hopes lawmakers could also reconsider tax reform during the special session.
Deal, however, says that depends.
“Unless there is some fairly good agreement in advance as to the parameters of any tax reform package, you would not want to see a special session extended unduly," he said this week. "And that will be one of the considerations in whether or not to include that in a potential call.”
A spokesman for Deal said taking up tax reform will also depend on state revenues when the fiscal year ends in June.
Lawmakers have already begun meeting -- and bickering -- about redistricting, which will top the session's agenda for sure. A state Senate committee on redistricting met for the first time this week to discuss the process of redrawing legislative maps. The meeting, however, was dominated by questions about the legitimacy of the process.
That's because questions remain over the Republican leadership’s decision to create a new redistricting office. Previously, an independent institute at the University of Georgia oversaw redistricting. At the meeting, Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat, raised questions about one of the office’s employees, Dan O’Connor. But the Republicans that oversee the committee rebuffed his attempts to find out why O'Connor was hired.
Democrats have complained about the new office because it will allow committees of lawmakers to oversee the redrawing of district maps. Republican leaders have said the new system will save costs. They also say many of the same UGA employees are involved in the process.
Tracey-Ann Nelson of The League of Women Voters of Georgia says previously there was no question that UGA's Carl Vinson Institute was nonpartisan.
"Our concern is that there is not a level of academia or transparency in place as a result of the University of Georgia’s contract not being renewed," she said in an interview last month. "You know, some may say, ‘Well it doesn’t make a difference. They are using the same people.’ But the accountability process is different.”
What's at stake, Nelson said, is who has a voice in government.
But House Committee Chairman Roger Lane, a Darien Republican, says the new system will save costs. And he reiterated that many of the same UGA employees are involved in the process.
“The committee that decides state contracts decided in the long run we may save money bringing it in-house, having all the people in that office working for the legislature and when redistricting is all over, we can downsize somewhat and not be held to that long-term contract,” he said in an interview last month.
Republicans have also countered that when Democrats were in control, they used their advantage when redrawing district maps. In a letter to a Democratic lawmaker who complained about the process, Senator President Pro Tempore, Tommie Williams, a Lyons Republican, said that staff members of the Democratic Party had a hand in redrawing legislative maps after the last census was released.
He wrote that the Democratic Party oversaw the process "with no input from any member of the Republican minority at the time," according to the letter, which he sent in February.
The redistricting will cost the state $3.8 million.