Posts Tagged ‘Legislative Update’

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.

Political Heavyweights Add Muscle to Hemp Bill

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Kentucky’s Agriculture commissioner recruits some Kentucky ambassadors from the Beltway to muscle through a bill positioning Kentucky for industrial hemp production if the federal government allows.

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Senate Ag Committee chairman Paul Hornback, calls for the state Ag department to establish conditions and procedures for licensing industrial hemp growers who would have to plant a minimum of 10 acres.

Agriculture Commissioner Comer’s office would assume all of the responsibilities of Senate Bill 50 from certification that hemp seed is below the appropriate THC level, administering background checks and licensing growers, providing GPS mapping of industrial hemp production to law enforcement and inspecting the crops and conducting tests when necessary.

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer voiced his opposition to the measure out of fear law enforcement would be hard pressed to distinguish between marijuana and hemp in outdoor fields except through laboratory testing.

An unlikely trio of Kentucky’s federal delegation banded together in favor of Senate Bill 50 and made their appeal before the Ag panel: Republican Thomas Massie of the 4th Congressional District; John Yarmuth of the 3rd CD and Kentucky’s junior US Senator Rand Paul.

Paul donned his dress shirt made of hemp made in Canada while  pitching the bill before the Senate Ag panel. He said Kentucky is sending profits to our neighbors up north, which he decried as nonsense. Senator Paul has a plan in Congress to legalize industrial hemp production in this country, or seek a waiver for Kentucky.

Kentucky’s third district Congressman John Yarmuth joked about why an urban federal lawmaker from Louisville is interested in industrial hemp legislation. Yarmuth says he’s interested in hemp because it can mean new jobs.

Thomas Massie, Kentucky’s newest Congressman from the fourth district in Northern Kentucky, spoke in favor of Senate Bill 50 from three different perspectives: as a legislator, a farmer, and an entrepreneur. He and Yarmuth have filed a bill in Congress that would exempt hemp with less than .3 percent of THC concentration from marijuana laws. In economic terms,
Massie explained where Kentucky stands in the hemp movement.

Paul Hornback’s Senate Bill 50 cleared the Senate Ag committee unanimously and now heads to the Senate. In a press conference after the vote, Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan Seum said he hadn’t gauged Republican’s reception to the bill yet and didn’t know if it would be called for a floor vote this week.

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

Annual Kentucky Chamber Event is “Fancy Farm Gone MILD”

Friday, January 11th, 2013

At Thursday night’s 18th Annual Kentucky Chamber Day with 1500+ politicians, lobbyists, and business leaders looking on, affirmations of bipartisanship abounded from the podium speakers that included the governor and top ranking legislators from both chambers. KET’s Bill Goodman emceed the event held in Lexington. While business attire at the Kentucky Chamber dinner is expected, spectators are eager for the Capitol’s top brass to infuse a less buttoned-up approach in their addresses.

Think of it as “Fancy Farm Gone Mild,” with light-hearted partisan punch lines and polite audience laughter instead of the fist-pounding, call and response rhetoric to which the yearly western Kentucky political event claims ownership.

Some of the speakers come with prepared text that’s more policy than joviality. House Speaker Greg Stumbo started with the latter, but cranked up the decibels on his main takeaway: “It’s time to quit kidding ourselves in Kentucky with 1 in 4 kids in poverty…we need to stop talking and be courageous to do something for Kentucky, he said in signature animated fashion. “Let’s stop talking about bi-partisanship and do it,” he added.

Bipartisanship was the theme of the night, as were calls to act on public pension and tax reform, legislative redistricting; even industrial hemp got a mention. With about 2/3 of the state legislature in attendance and a handful of former governors sitting among the packed crowd, newly-elected Senate President Robert Stivers kept to the script on policy points after jokingly expressing gratitude to Governor Steve Beshear for the judicial appointment of former state Senate chief David Williams that made way for Stivers’ ascension to the top slot. Perhaps the most salient remark from the 17-year legislative veteran was that “systemic changes in Kentucky will be made through education.”

That remark is particularly poignant on the same day he stood among a phalanx of lawmakers and university presidents to announce bipartisan support for a plan to let public universities issue their own bonds for projects ranging from classrooms, to housing, and athletic complexes. House Republican leader Jeff Hoover pointed to that shared goal as one demonstration of the new day in Frankfort.

Senate Democratic leader R.J. Palmer spoke of how tax reform has been “studied to death and now it’s time to act,” and stressed the need to tackle legislative redistricting this year.

“This is the first legislative session in five years that I’m looking forward to,” said a grinning Governor Steve Beshear at the dinner. He bragged about recent rankings showing Kentucky’s progress in education and government metrics giving the state a second place ribbon for job growth. Beshear also tempered pleas for public pension reform now without creating “a massive influx of revenue” to mitigate the system’s multi-billion dollar unfunded liability. He added that it can’t be accomplished by slicing and dicing government programs. What he didn’t mention was the prospect of expanded gaming as a coffer-plumping measure.

Many folks are cautiously optimistic about a new day in Frankfort. By session end, there will be a clear record of vows made and kept. When the seasons change from winter haze to spring’s splendor, we’ll know if (in the words of Senator Stivers) “gotcha politics are a thing of past.”

“Legislative Update” has the wrap-up of the first week tonight at 11pm ET on KET. And, we will present a one-hour highlights program of the Kentucky Chamber dinner on Monday night at 9pm ET following “Kentucky Tonight.”


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