, Corbin, KY

June 11, 2013

Leaders setting ‘ground rules’ for redistricting

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis/ CNHI News Service

It’s not a matter of if, it’s only a matter of when — and of how.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers and Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo have agreed on two key principles for a looming special session on redistricting.

All three plans drawn by the legislature – for Congress, for the state House and for the state Senate – used a “consistent” set of population numbers and the session will occur before November.

They made the announcement after an hour-long meeting Monday in the governor’s office.

“We are working on a set of ground rules that will assure consistency at all levels and we are already looking at our calendars to determine a date for a special session and we ought to be able to determine that date within a week or so,” Beshear said after the meeting.

The U.S. Constitution requires state legislatures to redraw legislative maps every 10 years following population counts by the U.S. Census Bureau to ensure districts of roughly equal size and representation.

The General Assembly passed plans in 2012 favoring the Republican majority in the Senate and Democratic majority in the House but those plans were ruled unconstitutional by the state courts. This spring, the House passed a new plan for the House which it said met court guidelines, but the Senate said it wanted to wait, perhaps until the 2014 General Assembly which convenes in January.

But that changed after two federal lawsuits were filed, demanding the legislature immediately redraw the maps – or if it refuses asking the courts draw them before November. (Kentucky law requires legislative candidates to live in the district from which they are elected for one year prior to taking office. Unless the plans are in place by November, a lawmaker or potential candidate might find his residence moved outside the district he intended to contest in an election.)

Further complicating matters is the plan passed by the House this spring does not include the federal prisoners. The congressional map passed last year and upheld by the courts includes federal prisoners. That’s the subject of consistency promised by Beshear, Stivers and Stumbo Monday.

It’s the subject of consistency promised by Beshear, Stivers and Stumbo Monday.

Stumbo echoed Beshear’s comment about consistency, saying all three plans would use the same set of numbers. If the plans drawn for state legislative districts don’t include federal prisoners, presumably the legislature would then have to re-draw last year’s congressional maps which include those prisoners. That probably implies the new plans will include those prisoners.

And that could impact a couple of key legislative districts in northeastern Kentucky where those prisoners provided crucial numbers to a district represented by House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, which in turn impacted the 100th district centered around Ashland and represented by Rep. Kevin Sinnette.

Both Beshear and Stivers dismissed questions about whether the courts might act before the special session can be called and conclude its work on new maps.

“They want something done before Nov. 4 and obviously we’ll have it done well in advance of that,” Stivers said.

“I think they will have plenty of assurance that the legislature and the governor will be moving forward on this issue and get it done expeditiously,” Beshear said.

Beshear said he, Stumbo and Stivers are comparing calendars and will consult with rank-and-file lawmakers about their schedules before setting an actual date.

All three were clear on one thing: they don’t want to turn the duty of drawing legislative maps over to the courts.

“I will say that without any equivocation,” Stivers said. “We want to be drawing the boundaries.”