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Special session aims to untangle redistricting fight

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By Kevin Wheatley

The State Journal
 

Lawmakers will return Monday for a special session to tackle legislative and judicial redistricting, a typically contentious issue that appears less so based on proposed maps introduced by House and Senate leadership.

After introducing a plan that would have forced 12 Republican incumbents into competitive districts earlier this year, House Democrats unveiled a map Friday that would pit eight incumbents — four Democrats and four Republicans — against each other in four districts.

In each case an incumbent, including House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, would potentially face a member of his party in a primary next year.

A Senate plan passed in 2012, which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court, would have removed Democratic Sen. Kathy Stein out of the chamber entirely until 2014 after moving the 13th Senate District from downtown Lexington about 100 miles to the northeast.

Now, the Senate seems poised to pass a plan that would place no incumbents against another, based on a map publicized Thursday

Both chambers say their maps are fair and equitable. Senate President Robert Stivers said the Senate’s proposal respects the will of Kentucky voters and that Democratic leaders had unprecedented input into the new boundaries.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, praised the House plan Friday, saying the proposal “is moving toward a better approach on redistricting.”

Political gamesmanship and bolstering majority control of both chambers have taken a backseat with three federal judges ready to redraw legislative boundaries should lawmakers fail to pass constitutional maps this week.

House and Senate leaders have said they expect the special session, which costs taxpayers about $60,000 per day, to last no more than five days, the minimum necessary to pass legislation into law. Each chamber has said they would pass the other’s redistricting plan without tinkering with districts.

How did they end up here?

The General Assembly created new legislative boundaries in 2012, but the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the new maps because they violated state and federal “one man, one vote” mandates.

The high court ruled elections held in the fall that year would be held under previous maps based on outdated U.S. Census population figures. Lawmakers must redraw legislative districts to account for population shifts every 10 years based on U.S. because they violated state and federal “one man, one vote” mandates.

The high court ruled elections held in the fall that year would be held under previous maps based on outdated U.S. Census population figures. Lawmakers must redraw legislative districts to account for population shifts every 10 years based on U.S. Census data.

A group of Northern Kentucky residents and the American Civil Liberties Union sued, and a three-judge panel in federal court has said it will take up redistricting if the General Assembly cannot create districts that pass constitutional muster.

House and Senate leaders do not want to cede redistricting power to the judges.

“We want to pass this as quickly as possible and in no way do we want to abdicate our authority to the courts,” Stivers, R-Manchester, said Thursday. “It is not good for the institution of the Legislature.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the House proposal affects more in the majority party than any he’s seen since joining the General Assembly.

Having three federal judges ready to take up redistricting “probably hastened the process forward from both the House and the Senate perspective,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Friday.

“This is a legislative responsibility that now that we know what the rules are and they’re clear, we can go ahead and do it,” he said. “That system is functional and we’ve proven that, I believe, with the Senate map and with this map.”

What’s the process?

The special session starts Monday when the House gavels in at noon and the Senate follows at 4 p.m.

If all goes as planned, the House will take up redistricting Monday and Tuesday, then pass the bill along to the Senate.

The Senate will have Wednesday and Thursday to attach its map as an amendment to the House bill, then send it back to the House for concurrence Friday.

Stumbo and Stivers have said the chambers would respect a long-standing tradition to stay out of the other’s redistricting effort. The House or Senate could offer an amendment to their respective plans if necessary. Stumbo said the House proposal released Friday, barring some minor tweaks, likely will pass unchanged

The bill will then await Gov. Steve Beshear’s signature to become law.

Under the House planned that was unveiled, Carroll County would remain in Rep. Rick Rand’s 47th House District.

The district would change slightly with the addition of Gallatin County to the mix.

 

Source: Kentucky Press Association News  Content Service and the Frankfort Journal.