Senate Panel backs redistricting rules change

Associated Press State Wire: Kentucky (KY) - Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Author: RANDY PATRICK - Associated Press

A Senate committee has unanimously approved a bill that calls for a constitutional amendment to allow lawmakers to divide more counties in redistricting. 

The bill by Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, would apply to redistricting following the 2020 census if it passes the legislature and voters approve it at the polls. The Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday passed the measure by a 9-0 vote. 

Limits on the number of counties permitted to be divided complicated redistricting this year. In February, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that legislative candidates would have to run in their old districts in November because newly redrawn districts were unconstitutional. 

Redistricting occurs every 10 years to account for population changes. Between 2000 and 2010, Kentucky's population grew from 4 million to 4.3 million, requiring new legislative and congressional district boundaries. 

Federal law requires that districts be nearly equal in population, with a variation of no more than 5 percent. But legislators say it's hard to comply with that requirement and a state constitution provision that redistricting divide as few counties as possible. 

''We cannot, at this point in time, abide by or conform to Section 233 (of the Kentucky Constitution),'' Stivers said. 

Stivers' bill would allow legislators to divide any county when ''reasonably necessary'' to achieve the equality requirement, provided that a county first be given as many districts that are entirely contained within the county as it has the population to handle before adding parts of contiguous counties. The number of divisions within any county must be kept to a minimum. 

He gave as an example Jefferson County, which has a population of about 700,000. Because Senate districts consist of about 114,000 people, he said, the county would have to have at least six wholly contained Senate districts before parts of any other counties could be added to make a district. In a less densely populated county such as Laurel County, legislators ''could not cut it up five ways,'' he said. 

Stivers noted that a legislative map proposed by Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester this year would have divided Ohio County. ''Under this scenario, that plan would have been constitutional,'' he said. 

Stivers' bill also would require legislators to remain in session without pay if they don't finish redistricting by April 15, when the session ends, according to the state constitution. 

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, voted for the measure, but said a more comprehensive approach is needed. 

''The problem I have with your legislation is that it doesn't go far enough,'' he said. ''It seems to me that what we really need is to take politics out of the redistricting process or at least not be guided by that.'' 

Neal suggested the creation of a nonpartisan committee that would draft a legislative redistricting plan without regard to political considerations and recommend it to the General Assembly. He said he has proposed legislation that he would like Stivers to incorporate into his bill ''at some point.'' 

Also during Wednesday's committee meeting, members voted 6-2 in favor of a proposal that would give the legislature the authority to review and either approve or disapprove administrative regulations. 

Neal spoke against that measure, describing it as an infringement on the doctrine of the separation of powers. But Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said it was needed to ensure that the executive branch follow the intent of the legislature, which makes the laws.