Politics & Government

Redistricting amendment would allow splitting of counties

FRANKFORT — A constitutional amendment that would detail how lawmakers may divide counties when redrawing the boundaries of legislative districts has support from leaders in the House and Senate.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Friday that he supported Senate Bill 18, an amendment that would give the legislature permission to split medium-size counties to balance the populations of legislative districts.

The Kentucky Constitution now says counties that can be contained in one legislative district should remain in one district. But legislative leaders say some counties must be split into multiple districts to create districts that have equitable populations, a requirement of federal law.

A Franklin Circuit Court judge threw out newly drawn district boundaries earlier this year because the bill allowed some districts to vary by more than 5 percent from the ideal population size and divided more counties than necessary.

The state Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a full opinion soon, giving more guidance on redrawing legislative district lines.

Meanwhile, lawmakers must run for election this year in legislative districts that were drawn in 2002.

SB 18, which was filed by Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, has yet to be heard in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

Stivers, R-Manchester, said Friday that he expected the measure to be heard soon. He said complying with the state constitution's mandate about splitting counties has been difficult as the state's population shifts and grows.

"It makes it very hard to be in compliance with Section 33 of the constitution," Stivers said.

Stumbo said Friday that he has not read the full text of the proposed amendment but supported the concept of changing the constitution so it would be less restrictive on how counties would be split.

"I would be in favor of it," Stumbo said. "It's a more-or-less antiquated part of the constitution."

The constitutional amendment would have to be approved by both chambers and ratified by voters in November. If approved, the new rules would be in place next year, when the legislature is expected to tackle redistricting again.