Posts Tagged ‘redistricting’

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.

Redistricting Efforts Assailed as a “perversion of democracy”

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Embittered by partisan politics over redistricting, some House members from both sides of the aisle worry that the map wrangling will further erode public confidence in lawmakers and the legislative process.

Reshaping legislative and congressional boundaries has dominated the Capitol discourse since the session began eleven days ago. Lawmakers have been working to firm up new lines for state House, Senate, congressional, and judicial districts in time to meet the January 31st candidate filing deadline. There will be election contests this year for U.S. House of Representatives, state House, and the odd-numbered state Senate seats.

Last week, the state House approved a house plan that pits several Republican incumbents against each other and in one case against a powerful Democratic leader. This week, the Republican-controlled Senate redrew its boundaries and put incumbent Democrats in head-to-head election competitions.

A new summit in the redistricting outrage was reached when the Senate approved its plan that ousts Lexington Democrat Kathy Stein from her District 13 seat by year’s end by redrawing that district’s boundaries to encompass counties in northeast Kentucky.

On the House floor today,  Rep. Kelly Flood of Lexington says she is grief-stricken over the remapping maneuver and characterized it as a “perversion of democracy.” Stein served in the Kentucky House of Representatives for 11 years before taking the Senate seat left vacant by a retiring Democrat in 2009.

Flood contends that the plan raises several constitutional conflicts that could result in costly litigation “because a majority of Lexingtonians would be disenfranchised until the even-numbered Senate elections of 2014.”

Under the new Senate map, a large portion of Lexington would fall under the fourth Senate district currently represented by Sen.  Dorsey Ridley, a western Kentucky Democrat. Flood blasted the change as “fundamentally a perversion of democracy to suggest that the people of Lexington will not be able to vote and select their own state senator.”

Republican House floor leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown, commented on the pain of political paybacks. He offered some flippant coping advice: “Welcome to our world. You denounce the Senate plan, no different really than what the House did last Thursday.”

He urged the body to reject the final package of redistricting bills that included the redrawn House, Senate, and judicial maps to send a message to voters that lawmakers won’t stand for political trickery and gamesmanship to constituents’ detriment.

Pleas to cast a protest vote and take another stab at the remapping didn’t prove persuasive enough to change the expected outcome. On a vote of 58 to 39 the redistricting maps of state House, Senate, and judicial lines cleared the House, and the measures were sent to the governor’s desk.

Louisville Democrat Jim Wayne says he will request the Legislative Research Commission to review how other states deal with redistricting.  Meanwhile, key lawmakers from both chambers and both parties are hashing out their differences on congressional boundaries.

You can see today’s House floor remarks about redistricting tonight on Legislative Update at 11pm ET on KET.


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