FRANKFORT — Kentucky House and Senate leaders said Tuesday, the opening day of the 2012 General Assembly, that they hope to approve changes to the boundaries of state legislative and congressional districts early in the session.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he would like the Democratic-controlled House to pass its redistricting plan by early next week.
Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Republican-controlled Senate would like to act quickly on redistricting to avoid extending the Jan. 31 deadline for candidates to file to run for office this year.
"We still have a few decisions to make, not a lot," Stivers said.
Redrawing boundaries and expanding gambling were the two hot topics of discussion as the General Assembly reconvened for a 60-workday legislative session that runs through mid-April.
Lawmakers must approve a two-year budget and tackle redistricting. Gov. Steve Beshear also has said he will push for a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide in November whether they want to expand gambling in Kentucky.
On Tuesday, members of the House and Senate filed bills that would redraw legislative and congressional districts.
House Bill 2, which included a proposed congressional map unveiled by Stumbo last year, would tweak the boundaries of all six congressional districts.
Under the House plan, the 6th Congressional District — which includes Fayette County — would lose Jessamine, Garrard and Boyle counties and a portion of Lincoln County. Those counties would move to the 2nd District. Replacing those counties would be Washington and Marion counties from the 2nd District and Harrison, Robertson, Fleming, Nicholas, Bath and a portion of Scott counties from the 4th District.
The redistricting bills filed by the Senate on Tuesday included only the current state House, Senate and congressional boundaries. The Senate's version of the redrawn congressional map will be unveiled later, said Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who filed the bills.
The House and Senate generally approve each other's redrawn legislative maps. But the two chambers must agree on the congressional map.
Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Prince ton, chairman of the House State Government Committee, said he would hold hearings Thursday on the House's redistricting bills.
Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton is expected to testify then about the redrawing of the state Supreme Court districts, which have not been changed in 20 years. Also, Stumbo might speak on the House Democratic leaders' proposed congressional map, Cherry said.
Cherry said he could not say whether the two bills would come up for a vote Thursday.
On the issue of expanded gambling, Thayer said Tuesday that he did not know whether he would file a constitutional amendment to expand gambling.
Thayer, who has ties to the racing industry, said he met recently with Beshear and told the Democratic governor "that I would work with him on getting a bill on the ballot."
Thayer said he plans to discuss the issue Wednesday with other members of the Senate Republican Caucus.
"It's a very difficult issue," he said, noting that some legislators think the state's racetracks should not have exclusive rights to operate casino-style games.
During his recent discussions with Beshear, Thayer said he told the governor that he thought nine casinos would be too many for the state. There are eight racetracks in Kentucky, and one license for a racetrack hasn't been granted.
Beshear is expected to mention the subject in his State of the Commonwealth speech before a joint session of the legislature at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, has long opposed the expansion of gambling. The state's racetracks have pushed the issue, saying they need additional money from gambling to pump up purses for horse races. The tracks say they are losing races to nearby states that allow casino-style gambling at racetracks.
Williams, who lost to Beshear in November's gubernatorial election, said Tuesday that Thayer was not representing the Senate or the Senate Republican Caucus in his discussions with Beshear about the constitutional amendment.
Stumbo said Tuesday that an amendment could be approved by the House, depending on how the amendment was worded.
Beshear "has indicated that it should be simple, and I think we all agree with that," Stumbo said.
Some lawmakers are concerned that Beshear will present an amendment that would give racetracks exclusive rights to expanded gambling. Stumbo and Williams, both lawyers, have said it could be problematic to limit who may get a casino license in the state constitution.
Stumbo also said he planned to file legislation Wednesday that would allow the University of Pikeville to join the state public university system.
Stumbo and former Gov. Paul Patton, currently president of the University of Pikeville, have pushed to include the school in the state system, saying the region lacks an affordable four-year university. Lowering the tuition at the school would mean more middle-income and lower-income students could attend, they have said.
Williams expressed reservations about the plan Tuesday.
He said no one doubts that adding the University of Pikeville to the state system would have "a positive economic impact" on Pike and surrounding counties. But he said the same could be said for putting a four-year state university in Owensboro, Somerset or Hazard.