Politics & Government

Governor signs redistricting bill into law

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear signed a bill into law Friday that changes boundaries for legislative districts, potentially ending nearly two years of wrangling by lawmakers over how to redraw the maps.

Three federal judges overseeing the legislature's efforts will have the final say on the constitutionality of the House and Senate districts that the two chambers signed off on Friday before Beshear signed the bill into law.

"I expect these maps will withstand legal scrutiny, so all Kentuckians can be assured of appropriate representation in the General Assembly," Beshear said in a statement.

The House voted 79-18 Friday morning to approve the redistricting bill soon after the Senate had passed it 35-2, reflecting broad bipartisan support.

Beshear called lawmakers into special session Monday to redraw boundaries around legislative districts. He urged them to complete their work as quickly as possible because of the cost of a special session: $60,000 a day.

Kentucky's legislative process requires a minimum of five days to get a bill to final passage.

By wrapping up Friday, legislators limited the overall cost of the special session to about $300,000.

Redistricting is undertaken every 10 years to account for population changes recorded by the Census Bureau. The state's overall population rose from 4 million to 4.3 million from 2000 to 2010, and it shifted largely from rural communities to urban areas.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, of Manchester, and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, of Prestonsburg, said the plan is fair and constitutional.

The bill Beshear signed Friday starkly contrasts with a measure passed last year that was struck down as unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court. That plan would have essentially forced some Republican representatives and Democratic senators out of the legislature. The partisan bickering that resulted from those efforts led to lawsuits that slowed Kentucky's enactment of new boundary lines.

The Senate State and Local Government Committee made slight changes Thursday to the 13th Senate District in Lexington, held by Sen. Kathy Stein, a Democrat. The committee removed five precincts from Stein's district, including the home precinct of Elisabeth Jensen, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.

Jensen acknowledged Friday that she had been asked to consider seeking Stein's seat if Stein is appointed to a vacant seat in Fayette Circuit Court. Stein has said she would be honored to be considered for the judgeship.

Jensen, though, said she remains focused on running her congressional campaign.

"I have not paid that much attention to it," Jensen said. "If it was something that would make sense for the party, I said that I would look at what the district would look like after the maps were finished."

Stivers, the Senate president, said Friday that a Democratic official in Fayette County requested the changes in the precincts, but he declined to name the official.

Stein said she didn't know who asked for the changes. Stivers and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Lexington did not request the changes.

Friday's legislative action is likely to trigger a new round of court motions asking the federal judges to review the new boundaries.

Chris Wiest, a lawyer who represents several Northern Kentucky residents in the federal lawsuit, said there have been concerns that many Republican districts have higher numbers of voters than Democratic districts in the new House map.

The redrawn House boundaries put four incumbent Democrats and four incumbent Republicans in the same districts. The Senate proposal would pit no incumbents against each other.

The proposal had broad bipartisan support, but not everyone is happy.

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.

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