A “much fairer” redistricting plan passed the House by a wide margin Wednesday, though some representatives lamented that the map carved up some growing cities like Georgetown and Richmond.
House Bill 1 was voted out of the House 83-17 and sent to the Senate. It is expected to pass in that chamber Friday.
The General Assembly is making its second full attempt at redistricting after the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down maps passed in 2012 as unconstitutional.
The House plan will pit eight incumbents — four Democrats and four Republicans — in potential intra-party primaries and create four open seats. Two floor amendments were passed to alter precinct lines in Jessamine, Clinton and Christian counties.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who left the speaker’s podium to discuss the plan, said the map was not drawn punitively.
He pointed out House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook is paired with Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, in the 100th House District under the plan. Adkins has said he may move to fill a vacancy in the 99th district that includes Elliott, Rowan and Lewis counties.
“I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, this map is not intended to punish any district or any member,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “I’m sorry that four Democrats and four Republicans have to be paired against each other.”
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover called the map “a significant step toward a fairer plan” from the boundaries passed during the 2012 session.
Still, he raised “serious” concerns with the layout of plan, especially in higher density GOP districts and areas such as Georgetown, which includes three separate districts.
He also noted the unlikelihood that the Democratic pairings would meet in primaries this May.
“We all know that even though in the majority party there were some folks pitted together, we know in reality they’re not going to be running against each other,” said Hoover, R-Jamestown.
Hoover offered a GOP redistricting plan as a floor amendment, which failed 42-52.
Stumbo defended the plan as constitutionally sound, but that didn’t deter some, including Democrats, from criticizing the new lines.
Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, called the redistricting process “at best needlessly complicated.”
Madison County, which has grown by “leaps and bounds,” would be represented by five House members. Smart would be the only representative living in the county.
Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, voiced similar concerns after the city of Georgetown was split among three districts. Scott County has experienced “record-breaking growth” according to the 2010 U.S. Census, he said.
“I was excited when I heard that a fair plan would be offered by this chamber,” he said. “However, spaghetti must be on the menu this week because that’s what Georgetown looks like under this plan.”
Franklin County was affected little by the redistricting plan, a fact appreciated by Rep. Derrick Graham. His 57th House District would gain Peaks Mill, Swallowfield and Switzer precincts from the 56th House District represented by Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles.
“For the first time in 30 years, most of my county is intact, and the people of my county are very grateful for that,” said Graham, D-Frankfort.
The bill is on pace to pass the General Assembly by Friday. The Senate received the bill Wednesday, and it was scheduled for a committee vote Thursday.
Senate President Robert Stivers said the Senate redistricting map, which pits no incumbents against each other, might be tweaked slightly at the precinct level, but he said the vote Friday might be unanimous.
U.S. judges uphold order
A federal three-judge panel Wednesday upheld its order declaring no future elections be held under unconstitutional redistricting maps from 2002.
Stumbo had asked the court to amend its order to allow special elections between now and 2014 be held under the 2002 districts, from which the 2012 elections were based by order of the Kentucky Supreme Court.
In its order, the federal tribunal said the state Supreme Court had found that even if some areas would not have direct representation for some time “it was more important to ensure that special elections were conducted in a constitutional manner than pursuant to the identical geographic territory.”
Pierce Whites, Stumbo’s general counsel, disagreed with the court and said he is evaluating the order before deciding whether to file any additional motions for clarity.
“There’s no guidance in there other than to say, ‘We’re not going to issue the two-line order that would resolve the issues that have been raised, like what do we do if we have a special election, and the only thing we have to say is perhaps people can just do without representation,’” Whites said in a phone interview. “So I’m a little surprised at the court’s ruling.”
Stivers, R-Manchester, has maintained that the maps currently moving through the General Assembly will immediately change lawmakers’ districts and govern how special elections will be held.
“I think it’s very simple,” he said. “… You are the senator of that number, and that number then is applied to the geographic district.”