A House redistricting plan met little resistance as it moved through the state government committee Tuesday, with only three Republicans voting against the proposed boundaries.
House Bill 1 was amended slightly to add an emergency clause and redraw a line between the 33rd and 36th House districts in Jefferson County. The plan splits 24 counties — 22 by necessity and two others, Trigg and Harlan counties — and pits two pairs of Democrats and two pairs of Republicans in competitive districts.
The emergency clause will make the bill effective immediately if passed and would require a constitutional majority, or 51 votes, to clear the House.
The House State Government Committee passed the bill 25-4, with Republican Reps. Dwight Butler of Harned, Sal Santoro of Florence and Diane St. Onge of Lakeside Park and Democratic Rep. Jimmie Lee of Elizabethtown dissenting.
The wide margin in committee and talks with both Democrats and Republicans has House Speaker Greg Stumbo confident the redistricting measure will pass with ease when it is brought to the House floor Wednesday.
“If the vote in committee’s any indication, it may get 75 to 80 votes, maybe more,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said after the meeting.
Some have raised questions about the House plan. During the committee meeting, Santoro asked Stumbo about Republicans in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties “being on the high end” in terms of district populations compared to their Democratic counterparts. The seven GOP representatives are nearly 5 percent above the optimal population size while the two Democrats in the area fall below the ideal district population.
Stumbo said other areas of growth are similarly impacted, such as Madison, Hardin and Warren counties. In order to split as few counties as possible, some districts need to “roll” from small, rural counties to urban centers.
“It’s a little bit unfair to the growth areas, I believe, but it’s the law and we have to abide my it,” Stumbo said.
Some on the committee also asked about the necessity and impact of an emergency clause attached to the bill. New laws, without emergency clauses, take effect 90 days after being signed by the governor.
A federal three-judge panel Friday struck down Kentucky’s current legislative boundaries as unconstitutional. Stumbo is asking the court to amend its ruling to allow any potential special elections before the 2014 election cycle to be held under the 2002 lines to avoid confusion on how to conduct such unexpected elections.
The emergency clause could prove necessary should the federal court amend its ruling to allow special elections to be held under the new redistricting plan, Stumbo said.
That could create a messy situation in the House because the current and proposed redistricting plans “don’t mesh up” and would leave some parts of the state unrepresented, Stumbo said.
During a Monday teleconference, two of the three federal judges seemed to side with Stumbo’s reasoning to keep the 2002 districts in case of special elections.
“I said yesterday morning, and I still believe, that the court did not intend to do what the order did,” Stumbo said after the committee meeting. “I don’t think they considered the question of what happens in a special election.”
Senate President Robert Stivers took a different view, saying legislators are elected by district numbers that are attached to a certain region.
The district changes would be immediate once the redistricting bill becomes law, he said.
“As soon as this map becomes final, the governor signs it, then that’s your new district,” said Stivers, R-Manchester. “That is the district of the number.”
Stumbo argued legislative boundaries would not take effect until the next general elections in 2014.
“You’re elected for this term, and you’re elected to represent those people,” he said. “… You can’t change those districts. We couldn’t do it legislatively.
“I don’t think the court can do it. It (the federal panel) may do it, but how can they take people and give them another representative that they didn’t vote for?”