Black lawmakers expressed their opposition Monday to a proposal for an entirely new state flag, saying it could open the door to a referendum on restoring the Confederate battle emblem.

The Georgia House is nearing a vote on taking down the current state flag, which was created in 2001 to replace the flag dominated by the Confederate battle cross. Many blacks consider the Confederate emblem a painful symbol of oppression.

The replacement flag would feature the state seal on a blue field in the top left corner, with three red-and-white stripes and the words "In God We Trust" to the right.

But as part of the proposal, Georgians would get a chance to vote on the replacement flag in a March 2004 referendum. If a majority said no, there would be a July 2004 referendum on returning to the Confederate version.

"We don't want a referendum on a new flag. We've got a new flag," said Sen. Ed Harbison, a Columbus Democrat who is president of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Most white Democrats supported the compromise flag plan, setting up a split in the party, although both sides downplayed the disagreement.

Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, who campaigned last year on a promise to let the public vote on the state banner, said he hoped black lawmakers would consider the compromise.

"I would love for this to be not only bipartisan but certainly biracial," Perdue said.

The House is expected to consider the flag bill Tuesday. Black members make up about a fifth of the chamber, so they cannot block it alone.