Senate Poised To Finish Redistricting By Friday

Aug 21, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A fast-tracked proposal to redraw boundary lines around Kentucky legislative districts arrived in the Senate on Wednesday, just hours after it breezed through the House with broad bipartisan support.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said he expects final passage of the measure on Friday, bringing an end to a special session that's costing taxpayers more than $60,000 a day.

Redistricting is undertaken every 10 years to account for population changes recorded by the Census Bureau. Kentucky had major population shifts between 2000 and 2010, requiring reconfiguration of legislative districts in both the House and Senate to comply with the federal and state "one person, one vote" mandate. The state's overall population rose from 4 million to 4.3 million while shifting largely from rural communities to urban areas.

The latest redistricting proposal is a stark contrast to a measure passed last year only to be struck down as unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court. That plan would have essentially forced some Republicans out of the Legislature. The Senate's plan would have done the same to Democrats. The partisan bickering that resulted from those efforts led to lawsuits that slowed Kentucky's enactment of new boundary lines.

With three federal judges watching over their shoulders, the Democratic-led House and Republican-controlled Senate removed many of the partisan overtones this time around.

"I don't disagree that it is a much smoother and harmonious process than it has been in the past," Stivers said Wednesday.

The measure passed the House 83-17 on the third day of the special session.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the quick passage in the House reflects the willingness of Democrats and Republicans to work together to resolve their differences.

"Your constituents don't want us to be like Washington," Stumbo told his colleagues in a floor speech. "They didn't send us there to bicker and bemoan partisan politics."

Lawmakers are working fast to complete redistricting because the three-judge panel is poised to step in if lawmakers fail to resolve the matter. Those judges have ruled that existing legislative districts are unconstitutional and can't be used for any future elections. As a result, the House and Senate have opted to insert an emergency clause in the legislation that allows the new boundaries to go into effect as soon as Gov. Steve Beshear signs the measure into law.

The measure approved by the House would redraw legislative boundaries in a way that would put four Democrats and four Republicans in the same districts. A Senate proposal that will be written into the House bill would pit no incumbents against each other.

House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover said the proposal steamrolling through the Legislature is "a significant step toward a fair plan."

"I think all of us realize there is no such thing as a perfect redistricting bill," Hoover said.

The Kentucky high court found last year that the Legislature's initial effort was unconstitutional because the districts weren't balanced by population and therefore didn't comply with the "one person, one vote" mandate.

In the latest House proposal, Republican Reps. Myron Dossett of Pembroke and Ben Waide of Madisonville would share District 9, setting up a potential primary election battle. Republican Reps. C.B. Embry and Jim DeCesare would both be in District 17.

In northeastern Kentucky, Democratic Rep. Kevin Sinnette would potentially be pitted against powerful Democratic House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins in District 100. And two veteran Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Hubert Collins of Wittensville and John Will Stacy of West Liberty, would share District 97.

However, Adkins said Monday he's seriously considering moving back to either Elliott County, where he was raised, or Rowan County, where he attended college, to run in a proposed new district. That would avoid a potential contest against his fellow Democratic incumbent.