ATLANTA - The Georgia House moved Thursday to break the Atlanta area's dominance of the utility-regulating Public Service Commission - a move Republicans called an obvious grab for power by faltering Democrats.
A bill by Rep. Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, would split the state into five districts, including two across south Georgia - which currently has no local resident on the five-member board.
Commissioners still would run in statewide races, but would have to reside in the districts they sought.
"It's the latest in a long string of things in which Democratic leadership in this state is trying to hang on," said House Minority Leader Bob Irvin, R-Marietta.
The bill, with an amendment by Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, that reconfigured the districts, passed 116-57. It goes to the Senate for consideration.
Mr. Coleman introduced a similar bill last year that passed the House and failed in the Senate.
Mr. Coleman said he blames lack of geographical representation for inferior utility services in his district. The four Republican commissioners live in the Atlanta metropolitan area while the lone Democrat, Mac Barber, is from Commerce in north Georgia.
"Here (in Atlanta) you can call 100 miles away toll-free," Mr. Coleman said. "In my area it's only 13 miles toll-free."
Relations between the PSC and Legislature have always been rocky. They soured again last year when the new GOP majority replaced a longtime Democratic legislator, Bill Dover, as the PSC's chief of staff.
Mr. Irvin accused Mr. Coleman of trying to stack the board with Democrats now that the commission is majority-Republican.
Asked why he was introducing the bill at this time, Mr. Coleman answered, "because it didn't pass last year."
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