Keeling: Tweedling the legislative session away

Herald-leader columnistFebruary 12, 2012 

FRANKFORT — "Hump day" for the 2012 General Assembly arrives Thursday, according to the latest schedule available when this column was written.

Since legislative leaders have been known to cancel session days at the slightest hint of inclement weather or the even slighter hint of an inclement judicial decision delaying the filing deadline for this year's elections, that schedule may be out of date by now.

Six days after hump day comes the last day for filing new bills in the House. Senators catch a break. They get an extra two days for filing new bills.

In other words, the days of this session dwindle down. And the thumb-twiddling continues.

When the secretary of state's staff stopped accepting candidacy papers in legislative races at 4 p.m. this past Friday, the twiddling was supposed to stop because the filing deadline is a magical event.

In some years, it's been known to result in a mass transplant of spinal matter and productive vigor for incumbent lawmakers. This year, though, legislative redistricting stole the magic.

First, by delaying the deadline long enough for Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd to toss the redistricting plan passed in January and order this year's elections to be held in the districts in effect for the past decade. Now, legislative leaders' decision to appeal Shepherd's ruling prolonged incumbents' angst by turning the wait for the deadline into a wait for a ruling telling them which district's constituents they must please.

Someone far more cynical than me (hold the snickers, please) might wonder if all this was happening by design.

Pass a questionable redistricting plan inviting a lawsuit. Appeal when the plan gets tossed. Keep incumbents on edge about their re-election. You might delay consideration of a controversial issue such as casino gambling until it's too late to deal with it.

But as much as I respect the political skills of some legislative leaders, I suspect the redistricting fiasco arose more from arrogance than from deviousness.

No one challenged when they passed a questionable plan 10 years ago, which emboldened them to do it again. This time, it blew up in their faces. Once it did, though, I have no doubt some of them might try to exploit it.

While redistricting kept the General Assembly's other work on hold for 26 legislative days and counting, what have lawmakers been doing to amuse themselves?

Well, they entertained that rude penguin. They got autographs from and their pictures taken with the Animal Planet's "Turtleman." They've passed a lot of resolutions honoring people, places and things. They've filed numerous resolutions to rename sections of roads, bridges and overpasses.

They've introduced a squatzillion special guests, either joining them on the floor of their chambers or seated in the gallery above. They've adjourned their chambers "in loving memory and honor" of every soul who passed on in Kentucky since Dan'l Boone crossed the Cumberland Gap.

(Of course, expending all this love and honor on the dearly departed hasn't left them with much to expend in their dealings with each other.)

Oh, yes, they've passed and sent to the governor a grand total of three pieces of legislation: the legislative redistricting plan thrown out by Judge Shepherd, a bill extending the filing deadline for congressional elections and finally, on Friday, a congressional redistricting plan that might also get thrown out. With such an awesome level of productivity, it's small wonder they get paid seven days a week while in session.

Larry Dale Keeling email: lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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