Posts Tagged ‘House Speaker Greg Stumbo’

Remapping Process Is Intimate Exercise for Lawmakers

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Governor Steve Beshear has approved new legislative boundaries for the state House and Senate. With his signature today, the new lines will apply to future elections.

“I’m pleased that our legislators have met the constitutional requirements for new districts,” the Governor said in a statement released by his office. “I expect these maps will withstand legal scrutiny, so all Kentuckians can be assured of appropriate representation in the General Assembly.”

Let’s hope so. A three-judge panel monitoring the process will make the final determination.

The legislators’ first attempt at redistricting in 2012 ended with the Kentucky Supreme Court labeling their plan unconstitutional. This year the state House of Representatives took another stab at it, but the Senate didn’t, leaving the chore for this week’s special session.

The good news is lawmakers finally completed their assignment and did so in the five workdays anticipated for the session. Whether or not they receive a pass or fail grade remains to be seen.

Winners and Losers
One thing is for certain: both losers and winners criticized the process and the outcomes. Even House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the main mastermind behind the House plan, has bemoaned legislative districting an “ugly” task. Indeed it is a herculean effort to carve out districts with the ideal population count of 43,000, give or take a five percent deviation above or below.

Speaking before the House State Government Committee earlier this week, Stumbo explained the trio of federal and state constitutional orders lawmakers had to follow to complete the process: they must abide by the federal voting rights act, adhere to the “one person one vote” requirement, and mathematically split the required minimum number of counties as directed by the state Supreme Court last year. The Speaker said the new House map follows those rules, counts state and federal prisoners (which was a point of contention earlier this year), and pairs four sets of incumbents in both parties against each other.

That last point is where feelings get hurt – but not as much as when the plan splits some counties to such a degree that a legislator may not even reside in the district he or she represents.

Enter, Republican Representative Ryan Quarles of Georgetown. He jokingly quipped about the new map for Scott County by saying that “spaghetti must be on the menu this week because that’s what my district looks like.”

Democratic Representative Jimmie Lee of Elizabethtown sympathized. Hardin County will be split into six districts. Lee, a 21-year legislative veteran said, “Under the plan… we have the possibility of having 60,000 folks in Hardin County will become donors, [they] have the possibility of not having a legislator who lives in their county represent them – unheard of.”

A Bipartisan Creation
There were also complaints the House plan is skewed against high-growth metropolitan areas. Northern Kentucky Republican Joe Fischer pointed to population figures that indicate 50 percent of the Republican-registered districts are over 4 percent from the ideal, compared to just 13 percent of the Democrat districts. He worries the deviations could spur court intervention and said the metropolitan areas should be redrawn for equal partisan population among the districts.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Sannie Overly defended the plan as a “bipartisan creation,” even though she admitted it was far from perfect.

Complaints about the new maps weren’t isolated to the House. The new Senate arrangement jolted Carter County Democrat Robin Webb, who will be forced to forfeit representation of key areas near her northeast Kentucky home. Yet the new Senate boundaries do not pit incumbents against each other like the House plan does.

While some legislators grumble about the perceived inequities in redistricting, others are calling for a new approach to the process. Lawmakers will have to go through this dance again in eight years. House Republican leader Jeff Hoover advocates for a commission to offer suggestions for an alternative method, while some of his colleagues prefer an independent panel take over redistricting.

In the meantime, please join me tonight at 11:30 on KET for a wrap-up of the week’s activities. And stay tuned to see what the courts say about the new plan. Will the judicial panel approve it – or send legislators back to the drawing board yet again.

Map Drawing, Hemp Growing, and God-loving Issues Press Lawmakers

Friday, March 8th, 2013

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.’”

See Courier-Journal article by Tom Loftus.

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.

Pension Pickle Presents Prickly Propositions

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Try saying that three times. Now try to imagine something harder: getting factions and stakeholders on one accord – to say nothing of the politicians themselves. But, such is the case with most major pieces of legislation of any consequence. So, let me get to this one.

On Tuesday, the chair of the House State Government Committee offered up a competing plan for the cash-poor public employee pension system although the Senate already approved a plan by a 33 to 5 vote earlier this month.

Muhlenberg County lawyer Brent Yonts keeps the traditional, defined benefit plans for new hires as opposed to a hybrid plan proposed by Senate Republican floor leader Damon Thayer that mimics a 401-K like method. Yonts’ bill demands that the General Assembly pay the actuarially-required contribution to the pension system beginning in fiscal year 2014, and then would be prohibited from suspending that statute. In addition, the General Assembly could alter future benefits for new hires. It also provides a mechanism to keep the cost of living adjustments (COLAs) Senator Thayer had wanted to repeal. In the clip below, Rep. Yonts laid out the conditions for how the COLA’s would work:

Shelbyville Republican Brad Montell complained about the lack of an actuarial analysis of Yonts’ plan and chastised Yonts for dissing key recommendations from a year-long task force on public pensions and a high-ranking Senator who embraced those ideas.

As votes were cast, most Republicans declined to vote. Campbellsville Republican Jon Carney echoed the sentiments of Brad Montell. Democrat Derrick Graham, who has a heavy constituency of state workers, was quick to rebut.

The House committee version of Senate Bill 2 was approved by the House State Government committee with 17 yes votes, 1 no vote, and 10 passes by Republicans Tuesday afternoon.

Now on to the House Democrats’ proposal to create a funding stream to deal with the $30 billion unfunded liability in the public employee pension systems. It comes by way of House Bill 416 by House Speaker Greg Stumbo. The Speaker’s plan expands lottery options to include games like Keno and instant racing. The Speaker ditched the well-publicized idea of applying the 6-percent sales tax to lottery tickets after conversations with Kentucky Lottery officials determined that move would harm game sales. Representative Stumbo says existing statutory authority allows for the expansion of lottery offerings like online gaming, Keno and instant racing.

The Speaker insisted that Lottery proceeds would maintain commitments to the KEES scholarship fund and other initiatives and would be held harmless and allowed two-percent growth under the proposal. Money over and above that would be put into a newly created pension sustainability trust fund. Stumbo says $300 million were wagered through instant or historical racing machines in Kentucky from September 2011 through December 2012, and he explains how tax receipts in excess of that amount would be dedicated to the new pension fund.

The House Appropriations and Revenue committee advanced the speaker’s bill without opposition, although the Republican members on the panel did not cast votes.

Tune in each weeknight of the legislative session for a daily digest of committee meetings and chamber sessions at 11pm ET on KET.
And, follow @ReneeKET on Twitter throughout the day for constant updates. Visit the legislative archives of previous meetings and nightly reports at ket.org/legislature.


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