TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

June 18, 2013

Beshear to announce special session this week

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday he’ll let lawmakers know sometime this week when he’ll call them into special session to once again take up legislative redistricting.

Beshear has been meeting with Republican Senate President Robert Stivers and Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo to work out a date, though he wouldn’t say Monday precisely when the session will occur.

“Sometime this week I’ll be announcing a date for a special session,” Beshear said. “I’m still working on the calendar with the Speaker and with the President of the Senate, but we will have a date set before the end of this week.”

He wouldn’t specify an actual date.

“I don’t want to speculate on it at the moment because we’re still getting our calendars matched up but I will be announcing a date for the special session by the end of the week,” Beshear said.

He said he wanted to announce a date before a court hearing this Friday on one of the two federal suits demanding new district maps for Kentucky’s state legislative and judicial districts.

“I think the courts ought to have a clear indication that the legislature’s going to step up and address the issue of redistricting and so I think it makes good sense to announce this date before this Friday,” Beshear said when asked if that hearing is creating pressure to act.

Last year, the courts ruled unconstitutional plans passed by the General Assembly in 2012, finding the districts violated prior court mandates about splitting counties and varied too much in population from the smallest to the largest.

The rulings applied to the state Senate and House districts but did not include a congressional map which passed the legislature and was not challenged in court.

This spring the House passed a plan for its districts but the Senate declined to act either by passing its own plan or the House plan. (Traditionally, the two chambers agree to accept the other’s wishes for its own maps which favor that chamber’s majority incumbents.)

Initially, the Republican Senate indicated it preferred to wait for the 2014 General Assembly which convenes in January to redraw the maps which will govern the 2014 primary elections in May and general election in November of 2014.

But soon thereafter two separate federal suits were filed demanding new legislative maps which are required to be redrawn to create essentially equally-sized districts by the U.S. Constitution every 10 years following the U.S. Census population counts.

That prompted a meeting last week between Beshear, Stumbo and Stivers during which they agreed on the need for a special session prior to November of this year and that all maps would use a “consistent” population count.

That’s important because the congressional map includes federal prisoners housed in Kentucky but the House plan passed this spring does not count those prisoners. Previous court rulings seem to allow states not to count those prisoners, but some lawmakers have questioned whether a state can pass multiple maps, some of which do and some of which do not count them.

That led to the agreement by the three leaders on consistency among all four maps.

Beshear said again Monday there is agreement to use the same set of population data for all four maps. That seems to imply the state maps will now include those prisoners, but Beshear said that’s not necessarily the only option. It’s possible all four maps, including a newly drawn congressional map, would not count them.

He said that shouldn’t be a problem if the legislature decides to go that route because changes to the congressional map would involve only “a few thousand people one way or another” and only a few precincts on the boundaries of the districts.

He said he has not discussed that possibility with any members of the congressional delegation.

Nor, said Beshear, did he think doing so would likely produce a court challenge.

“I’ve known states over the years to redistrict more than once over 10 years,” he said.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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