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Redistricting dominates session

Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer (KY) - Saturday, January 28, 2012
Author: LaMar Bryan ; Messenger Lead Reporter ; lbryan@the-messenger.com
Rhoads: Suit also would affect state Senate, judicial proposals 

Language in the enabling legislation essentially joins the Kentucky House, Senate and judiciary redistricting plans at the hip from a legal standpoint. 

If a lawsuit filed this week results in the courts throwing out the House redistricting bill, then the Senate and judiciary plans will be rendered unconstitutional as well, according to state Sen. Jerry Rhoads, a Madisonville Democrat. 

"That's the way I read the bill," he said, citing a non-severability clause in the law. "It all goes down if one portion of it goes down." 

A lawsuit filed by three Republican House members and two state residents was filed Thursday in Franklin Circuit Court, challenging the constitutionality of the redistricting plan drawn by House Democrats. The court will hold a hearing Monday morning on a request seeking an injunction that would halt implementation of the law and extend the Tuesday filing deadline for state candidates. 

Rhoads expects there will be a separate lawsuit challenging the Senate redistricting plan, filed by either a senator or a group of constituents unhappy with how the new boundaries have been drawn. 

"I think the courts will eventually have the opportunity to rule on the constitutionality of both plans," he said. 

The majority parties in the two legislative chambers — Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the House — controlled the redistricting process and enacted new boundaries along mostly party-line votes. Gov. Steve Beshear signed the legislation into law on Jan. 20. 

In Hopkins County, officials have criticized redistricting, calling it blatantly partisan and saying the new boundaries may hurt the community's clout in Frankfort. 

State Rep. Ben Waide, a Madisonville Republican, has been placed in the newly configured 9th House District with fellow Republican incumbent Myron Dossett of Pembroke. Waide, who filed an alternative redistricting bill this week, saw his 10th District shift to eastern Jefferson County. 

On the Senate side. Rhoads' District 6 boundaries were altered to include Hopkins, Henderson, Webster and McLean counties. It also put Rhoads in the same district as fellow Democrat Dorsey Ridley, whose District 4 shifted to Lexington. 

See Session/Page A3 

Both the House and Senate plans raise substantial constitutional issues, Rhoads said. 

One of the most serious questions on the Senate side, Rhoads said, involves Sen. Kathy Stine, a Lexington Democrat whose 13th District has been shifted to northeastern Kentucky. She now resides in the new 4th District, represented by Ridley of Henderson. 

This change leaves Stine in limbo because old-numbered Senate districts are up for election this year and terms for even-numbered districts extend through 2014. 

"That means for the next two and a half years, (Lexington's) senator is Sen. Ridley, somebody they did not elect," Rhoads said. "Lexington residents elected Sen. Stine, and (Republicans) basically have thrown her out of office because they moved her district to another area of the state and she can't run in District 4 because it is not up for election until 2014." 

Rhoads said he is thankful that Hopkins County remains in the 6th District, calling it a privilege to be able to continue to represent his home community in the General Assembly. The pairing of Madisonville and Henderson — two of western Kentucky's largest cities — in the same district creates an awkward situation, he said. 

"I don't think it's right for Hopkins and Henderson (counties) to be in the same district," he said. "I think they should both be placed in difference districts because they have separate interests, separate economies, and they have separate community colleges." 

One alternative redistricting plan has been filed in the Senate — a Democrat proposal that failed to gain a hearing last week. 

Rhoads said the plan would keep Hopkins and Muhlenberg in the 6th District, as well as Butler County and most of Ohio County. No incumbents would have been paired in the same district, he said. 

Redistricting continues to dominate the legislative session, even with tough decisions looming on state budget cuts, according to Rhoads. 

"Regardless of the outcome of this, life goes on," he said. "I am going to continue to represent whatever district I'm assigned to. It's District 6, whatever counties may end up being in District 6. 

"I've already spoken to officials in my new counties — McLean and Webster and Henderson," he said. "I'm going to represent them with the same energy and commitment I have with my three counties in the past."