Politics & Government

Kentucky House panel advances redistricting plan


FRANKFORT — A plan to redraw the boundaries of state House districts sailed through a legislative committee Tuesday and appears to have the necessary votes to clear the House on Wednesday.

The House State Government Committee voted 25-4 to approve House Bill 1. Three Republicans and one Democrat voted against the plan, which pairs eight incumbents — four Republicans and four Democrats — in four House districts. The redistricting plan also splits 24 counties into multiple districts.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who presented the House plan to the committee on Tuesday, said he thinks it can muster the 51 votes needed to win approval with an emergency clause, which would make the bill law as soon as Gov. Steve Beshear signs it. There are 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans in the House.

House Republican Whip Rep. Bam Carney, R-Campbellsville, said many Republicans will vote for the plan.

"There will be quite a bit of support," Carney said. "We've come a long way. Obviously there are things that we don't like, but the reality is that it's far different than where we were two years ago and where we were last winter. I think you'll see much more support from our caucus."

House members who voted against the plan Tuesday were concerned about how the new legislative boundaries treated their districts.

Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, was the lone Democrat to vote against House Bill 1. Hardin County, a high growth area, was carved into six districts. Only Lee's 25th House District remained entirely within Hardin County. Currently, there are portions of five districts in Hardin County, including two entirely within the county.

"This bill is not fair to Hardin County," Lee said after Tuesday's vote. "When you split the sixth largest county in Kentucky into six representatives you have effectively created a situation in northern Hardin County that no one who lives in that area will ever represent their county."

Rep. Dwight Butler, R-Harned, who represents part of Hardin County, also voted against House Bill 1.

Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence, who also voted against the bill, questioned why Republicans in Northern Kentucky have more people in their districts than Democrats in Northern Kentucky. Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, also voted against the bill.

Stumbo said there are several high-growth areas in Kentucky. For the plan to be constitutional, each House district must be within a 5 percent deviation of 43,000 people. The number of counties the House can split into multiple districts is also limited, so balancing the population is tricky in highly populated areas, Stumbo said.

"This map is not drawn to obviously be punitive toward any community, it's not drawn to be punitive toward any member," Stumbo said.

The House plan approved Tuesday was very different from plans the House approved in 2012 and earlier this year.

Under the 2012 plan, nine incumbents were pitted against each other, including eight Republicans. The Kentucky Supreme Court declared that plan unconstitutional.

Further complicating the special legislative session that started Monday is a federal lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union and a group of Northern Kentucky residents sued the state in federal court for failing to draw new legislative district boundaries in a timely manner. A three-judge panel ruled late last week that the existing district lines, which were drawn in 2002, can't be used for any future elections.

Stumbo has asked that the panel amend that order so the old boundaries can be used in any special election that must be called before the new plan takes effect. Lawyers for the ACLU and the Northern Kentucky residents had until 5 p.m. Tuesday to respond to Stumbo's motion.

Stumbo said during Tuesday's State Government Committee meeting that he hopes the panel will amend the previous ruling to make an exception for special elections. If the panel does not, it will create havoc for any special election held before November 2014, he said.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said in a floor speech Monday that he wants the legislature to approve new district boundaries this week and not leave it up to the three-judge panel.

Stivers predicted that the court will validate the legislature's new maps.

Some senators also expressed criticism of the House plan, saying it split Republican-leaning counties into too many districts.

Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, said in a floor speech that it was wrong for the House to split Laurel County into five House districts and not have one whole district in his home county.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said his home community of Georgetown is split three ways in the House plan and "there's little we can do but complain."

Each chamber traditionally approves the other's redistricting plans.

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