By a mostly party-line vote, the Kentucky state House advanced Democratic leadership’s plan to redraw boundaries for House districts on Wednesday.
Legislative lines drawn last year were declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court and it left the mapping scheme from 2002 in place. Redistricting is required after a decennial census to take into account shifts or growths in population. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the mastermind of the remapping plan before the House mid-week, called the chore personal and often divisive, claimed it’s a mere puzzle of math. His House Bill 2 splits 24 counties which is the minimum, mandated number by the courts; the two additional counties that are split are Graves in the west and Harlan County in the east. It also pairs 11 Republican incumbents against each other and one Democrat against a Republican in the new mapping scheme. A contentious calculation in the redraw is the exclusion of the federal prisoner population. To that point, Speaker Stumbo gave this explanation.
In an inquiry from House Republican leader Jeff Hoover, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo acknowledged that both the congressional and judicial maps drawn and adopted last year included a count of federal prisoners. The inquisition into that sticking point was pursued even further by Representative Hoover.
Hoover continued a diatribe about rule-breaking referring to a plan for funding public pensions and other matters. Hoover accused House Democratic leadership of using adjusted, manipulated numbers this year that they didn’t use last year to achieve a political goal of maintaining control in the House.
In a rare floor speech, Republican Jill York did some numbers crunching of her own. The House Democrats redistricting plan pits her in a district with House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins.
Several aggrieved by the new map proposal rose to denounce it. House Speaker Greg Stumbo was unmoved and in his signature country lawyer vernacular he spouted that when it comes to redrawing legislative lines “somebody’s ox is getting gored.” While he had the body’s attention, he also rebuffed accusations that he’s obstructing compromise or passage of two prominent bills this session: public pension reform and hemp.
After about 85 minutes of floor debate, House Democratic leadership’s new maps for state House districts cleared the House in mostly partisan divide 53 to 46.
The hemp bill Speaker Stumbo alluded to cleared the House Agriculture committee Wednesday morning with minimal opposition. Whether or not the measure, Senate Bill 50, gets a floor vote in the House is concerning supporters. The Speaker claims the hemp measure contains an appropriation, and applying his logic means the measure should have originated from the House. And, the Speaker also isn’t convinced a state law is necessary and asked Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway to render an opinion. On Thursday, as Tom Loftus of The Courier-Journal wrote “the attorney general agreed with Stumbo that Kentucky would be forced to adopt any change in hemp policy at the federal level. But the opinion also said that if the federal government legalized hemp without providing a regulatory framework, ‘industrial hemp would be essentially unregulated in Kentucky after the mandatory adoption of the federal definition.’”
Senate Bill 50 doesn’t allow hemp to be grown in Kentucky, as it’s currently banned by the federal government. But, it does establish a regulatory framework in case the feds lift the ban or Kentucky is granted a waiver. A recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll found that 65 percent of Kentuckians favor legalizing hemp for industrial uses, compared to 22 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure.
The Kentucky State Police and prosecutors worry that hemp legalization will complicate drug eradication and enforcement efforts because of the physical similarities of hemp and marijuana that they contend make them indistinguishable by the naked eye. Hemp has a much smaller concentration of the psychoactive or intoxicating ingredient, THC, that’s found in marijuana. Hemp fibers can be used for fuel, apparel, cooking, plastics, and moisturizing creams. It’s still uncertain whether or not House Democratic leadership will call the bill up for a floor vote in the 4 days remaining this session.
In the mad dash to hoist bills across the legislative finish line, the Kentucky State Senate toiled nearly until midnight last night. Among the cluster of measures approved was a human trafficking bill that took a rather twisted and, at times, uncertain path through the legislative process. House Bill 3 is called ‘safe harbor legislation’ because it treats children who are sexually exploited for profit as victims as opposed to criminals. Like other child victims of abuse or neglect, they would be eligible for state services. The bill also calls for a victims’ fund to be created from fines and asset seizure of traffickers; victims of forced labor would be able to sue for unpaid wages and law enforcement would trained on recognizing the crime.
According the Kentucky Rescue and Restore Coalition, 101 victims of human trafficking have been identified in Kentucky, 44 of them were children. The State Senate passed House Bill 3 with some minor changes that must be approved by the House before it’s sent on to the governor’s desk.
Around 11:00 last night, the State Senate awarded final passage to a religious freedom measure that that allows citizens to ignore laws that substantially burden their religious beliefs. Opponents argue it endangers civil rights protections, stokes discrimination against gays and lesbians, and even endorses domestic violence under a person’s warped biblical interpretation.
The text of the House Bill 279 reads as follows: “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A “burden” shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.”
House Bill 279 passed 29 to 6 and now heads to the governor’s desk for his approval, veto, or he can let it become law without his signature.
State lawmakers agreed to change the session calendar and cancel class for today. The move means legislators will work both Monday and Tuesday of next week before taking a 10- day recess for gubernatorial veto consideration. The last day of the 30-day session is slated for March 26th. They are constitutionally bound to conclude their business by March 30th.
Tune in Monday night at 11pm ET for day 27 coverage of the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly in Regular Session, and follow @ReneeKET throughout the day for updates.