By Jeff Noble
Of the three counties in our region, Laurel County would still be divvied up into four state House districts, if a statewide redistricting bill gets approval in Frankfort.
Late Wednesday after a two-hour recess, the bill — House Bill 2 — was passed by the Kentucky House of Representatives, 53-46. The vote went mainly along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against it.
Democrats have the majority in the House, with a 55-45 margin.
On Tuesday, the House State Government Committee approved the bill, with Democrats voting for the changes, while Republicans voted against them.
The bill now goes to the state Senate, and could face an uncertain future because Senate GOP members say they want to wait until next year to take up redistricting.
Republicans have the majority in the Senate by a 23-14 margin, with one Independent.
Under the new House redistricting plan, the biggest change would be in the 89th District, where Marie Rader (R-McKee) is the current representative.
The new 89th District would start in a strip in middle of Laurel County, then edge northwestward to the Rockcastle-Pulaski borders. It would go northward at the Rockcastle County line, then go at the top of Laurel County into all of Jackson, Owsley and Lee counties.
If passed, the redistricting could set up a primary race between Rader and the current 91st District Representative, Toby Herald (R-Beattyville).
Herald’s old 91st District is presently made up of Lee, Estill and Breathitt Counties. Under the redistricting plan, the new 91st District would be moved to Boyle and Garrard counties in Central Kentucky.
Presently, the 89th District is made up of northern and much of eastern Laurel County, as well as Jackson and Owsley counties.
Statewide, the redistricting plan passed by the House would pit 13 incumbents against others, with 12 of them Republicans. The plan also creates seven new districts where no incumbent lives.
Laurel is one of 24 counties split by the redistricting plan, which is the minimum number allowed by previous court rulings.
According to law, redistricting happens in Kentucky and other states every 10 years, to reflect changes in the U. S. Census. Data from the 2010 Census is used as the source for the most recent round of redistricting. Last year’s House redistricting plan was ruled unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
According to House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg), another court requirement is that the ideal district size has a population of 43,308 and no district varies more than five percent from that amount.
House Republicans did offer several amendments, with some of them making minor adjustments in the plan, and one to substitute their own plan. All of them were defeated. 85th District Representative Tommy Turner (R-Somerset) was one of two Republicans who voted against the GOP’s alternative plan, while 19 other Republicans didn’t vote at all.
Aside from expanding more into Laurel County, the 86th House District would remain the same in the redistricting plan. It would include much of the southeastern part of Laurel County, as well as all of Knox County.
Jim Stewart (R-Flat Lick) is the present 86th District Representative.
Aside from losing a small patch of land along the Rockcastle River in Laurel and Rockcastle counties to the new 89th District, Turner’s new 85th House District would remain the same, made up of much of southwestern Laurel County and almost the entire eastern half of Pulaski County.
As for the new 82nd House District, the redistricting map shows it to be virtually the same as the present, with the southern tip of Laurel County and unincorporated North Corbin and all of Whitley County still in the district.
Regina Bunch (R-Williamsburg) is the current 82nd District Representative.
The House redistricting plan does not count federal prisoners in the population because they do not have permanent residency in Kentucky. Last year’s plan did count federal prisoners. There are currently six federal corrections facilities in the state, including nearby facilities in McCreary County and Manchester.
Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service, Frankfort contributed to this story