Posts Tagged ‘Ky. Senate’

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.

Nursing Home Litigation Debate Dominates Day 11 in Ky. Legislature

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

An embattled bill establishing a medical review panel system for use in civil litigation against long term care facilities dominated Senate floor action on Wednesday.

Supporters claim the measure will reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits against nursing homes, while opponents maintain the plan will make it harder for nursing home residents and their families to get their day in court for a facility’s neglect or abuse.

Senate Bill 9, which was fast-tracked to the Senate floor last week, resurfaced back in the Senate Health and Welfare committee where it began yesterday. The bill’s atypical odyssey traces back to a schism between Democrat and lawyer Sen. Ray Jones from Pikeville who accused committee chair Julie Denton of rushing action on the bill without hearing opposing views in committee last week.

Senator Jones commandeered the Senate floor Wednesday to air a lengthy argument against Senate Bill 9, which he deems as an unfair indictment of trial lawyers and an injustice to mistreated patients in nursing homes. The sponsor of SB 9, Senator Denton, presented a second iteration of the bill in committee where it was advanced to the Senate floor late yesterday afternoon. That’s where she gives the following explanation:

The debate’s intensity reached its zenith when Pikeville Democrat Ray Jones offered a stern defense of trial attorneys and literally illustrated with dramatically shocking photos showing evidence of neglect of some nursing home patients.

After lengthy debate, Senate Bill 9 cleared the State Senate on a vote of 23 to 12, along party lines. It now heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration there.

A bill that supporters say will not only solve crimes but also exonerate the innocent and save taxpayer money was before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday afternoon. House Bill 89 would add Kentucky to the 25 other states (and the federal government) that allow DNA collection (by mouth swab) at the point of felony arrest. A New Mexico woman who lost her daughter, Katie, to violent crime in 2003 is an ambassador for the law that bears her daughter’s name. The proposal in Kentucky embodied in HB 89 would allow DNA collection from persons arrested for homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault, and burglary. Jayann Sepich testified that in the three-year time span it took to catch and convict her daughter’s killer, he had murdered eleven other women in the meantime.

Later this month, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of collecting DNA at the point of arrest and is expected to render a decision in June. In January, President Obama signed into law a Congressional measure to help states pay for arrestee DNA collection for the first year that states participate in the program. This would translate into a $30 million dollar grant for Kentucky.

Ernie Lewis, with the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, voiced his opposition to the bill. He said even though the power of DNA to convict the guilty and free the innocent is widely known, he believes the proposed statute blurs the line.

Despite objections, Representative Mary Lou Marzian’s House Bill 89 cleared the House Judiciary panel and now heads to the House for consideration by the full chamber.

The House Judiciary panel also approved a familiar human trafficking bill by Representatives Sannie Overly, a Democrat, and Addia Wuchner, a Republican. House Bill 3 enhances current human trafficking laws to create a fund from fines and assets seized for the offense; allows victims of forced labor to sue their traffickers for unpaid wages and punitive damages; ensures that child victims of trafficking are not charged with prostitution and give them services through the Health cabinet rather than committed to the juvenile justice department. The measure now advances to the House floor for consideration by the entire body.

Watch Legislative Update each weeknight during the session for a recap of the day’s events at 11pm ET on KET and follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

‘Show Me the Money’

Friday, February 8th, 2013

When it comes to public pension reform some shout: ‘Show me the Money’

The second in command of the Kentucky State Senate says his pension reform measure has two goals: save the pension benefits for the more than 325-thousand current workers and retirees, and protect taxpayers from a fiscal calamity.

That’s how Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer framed his intentions on Senate Bill 2 before the full state Senate Thursday afternoon. The Georgetown Republican said cities and counties are also suffering the burden of burgeoning pension costs, like the state, and declared that action is needed to keep Kentucky communities from going broke like the nearly 100 across the country because of pension obligations.

Kentucky faces a $33 billion unfunded liability in the state pension system, and the bill does not include a way to pay off the hefty amount. Thayer says the bipartisan approach to the pension problem defies partisan politics and boils down to arithmetic.

Senate Bill 2 would not affect the Kentucky Teacher’s Retirement System, nor does it change the benefits for current workers and retirees. Senate Minority Floor leader RJ Palmer of Winchester said lawmakers are asking future hires to embrace a new retirement structure that awards a less-rich benefits plan. He said the new system calls for important concessions by front-line social workers, first responders and even school cooks and bus drivers, who are not covered by KTRS. He says a plan is desperately needed to fully fund the pension system in order to hasten the state’s return to financial stability, which is not a part of Senate Bill 2. Yet, he did say the bill is a good first step.

Madisonville Democrat Jerry Rhoads says the plan could make it more difficult to recruit qualified folks to the state workforce and laments that the hard part of pension reform is yet to come.

When Republican Senator Tom Buford of Nicholasville announced his verdict, his reason for casting a ‘no’ vote harkened to a quip from a Hollywood flick favorite “Jerry McGuire” with ‘show me the money.’

Carter County Democrat Robin Webb agreed with Republican Tom Buford’s objections. She believes that action now to repeal the cost of living adjustments will never be reinstated and cast a ‘no’ vote.

Senator Webb’s ‘no’ vote was among the five dissensions. Senate Bill 2 advanced from the Senate on a vote of 33 to 5 and now heads to the House. You can see more of the debate online at ket.org/legislature and watch my nightly “Legislative Update” report broadcast at 11pm ET on KET.


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