Map Madness Day 2: Grumblings, praise, defenses, court rulings and emergency clauses

08/20/2013 11:08 AM

The newly-proposed House map took its first step Tuesday with bipartisan support, clearing the House State Government Committee 25-4.

One Democrat, Rep. Jimmie Lee of Elizabethtown, voted against it along with three Republicans, Reps. Dwight Butler of Harned, Diane St. Onge of Lakeside Park and Sal Santoro of Florence.

Lee and Butler raised concerns about how Hardin County was split. Lee told Pure Politics that by carving it up into six districts, voters in Northern Hardin county, which he used to represent, would never have one of their own elected to the legislature. Their representatives would all live in surrounding counties.

St. Onge and Santoro both hail from Northern Kentucky. During the committee meeting, Santoro questioned House Speaker Greg Stumbo why the Republican lawmakers in Northern Kentucky have districts whose populations are on the higher side of the scale compared to the two Democrats in Northern Kentucky, whose districts are at least 2.6 percent under the ideal population for a House district. That ideal figure is about 43,000 people.

The map is scheduled for a floor vote Wednesday. And the Senate will take up its map starting Wednesday as well in order to wrap up the special session by Friday.

Emergency

The bill with the map that the committee approved includes an emergency clause, which would mean the districts would take effect immediately — but for the next election, scheduled in 2014.

Current legislators would still represent the same constituents that elected them in 2012, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said. Where it gets murky is what happens if an incumbent resigns before the 2014 elections.

“I think what the court meant to say is: ‘You can’t have another general election (under the old maps).’ We agree with that,” Stumbo said.

House and Senate lawmakers are still trying to make sense of the effects of Friday’s court ruling by a federal panel of judges. The judges ruled that the current map being used now — which was approved in 2002 — are unconstitutional because the populations of districts have changed so much since then that the district makeups are out-of-whack.

Splitting up is hard to do

The splitting up of counties — even those that are bigger than the ideal district of 43,000 people — has become the biggest point of consternation among some lawmakers during the session. Tuesday began with Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, giving a floor speech in which he announced he had drawn his own map that doesn’t split Laurel County. The county would contain pieces of five districts and none of the incumbents who would represent those parts live in Laurel County. Robinson’s bill isn’t going anywhere because, as Senate GOP Floor Leader Damon Thayer said, “We can’t do anything about the House map.”

Other Republicans have complained about the House map that splits the city of Georgetown in Scott County into three districts.

A preemptive defense

Tuesday began with Senate President Robert Stivers giving a forceful, if technical, preemptive defense of the Senate map.

That map does include one district — the 4th District in Western Kentucky represented by Sen. Dorsey Ridley of Henderson — that is beyond the 5 percent population deviation. It would be off by -6.5 percent.

Federal rules say districts shouldn’t deviate by more than 5 percent either way from the ideal district. But Stivers quoted a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court case saying that the legislature could justify breaking that guideline for other reasons, including making the districts more compact, preserving the core of an existing district and keeping incumbents from going against each other.

By keeping the 4th District the same as it’s current form, the Senate avoided putting Ridley in a district against fellow Democratic Sen. Jerry Rhoads of nearby Madisonville.

And because the district is under the ideal population, it means there’s not an issue where those constituents’ votes are worth less.

Stumbo, the House Speaker, said the Senate was “on sound legal ground” with its map and that district, although he said he didn’t necessarily believe that trying to avoid two incumbents going against each other was the strongest reason in this case.

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